GREENSBORO — East Surry advanced to the championship game of the 1A state basketball playoffs with a 73-65 upset of Hendersonville Friday night.
The Bearcats went into the game with a 24-3 record, while East Surry was riding a late-season surge to reach 19-11.
The Cardinals got their 20th win by attacking the basket and shooting a blistering 70.6 percent from the field in the second half.
If the Cards were nervous at the outset, it didn’t show in their shooting.
East Surry jumped out to a 6-0 lead with Seth Brim getting free under the basket a couple of times. In fact, Brim posted eight points in the first quarter on 4-4 shooting.
Hendersonville got on the boards with a three-point play with 4:50 left in the first.
Then the fullcourt pressure started to affect the Cards.
Guard Scott Meredith was trapped and had passes tipped on two possessions. Uncharacteristically, he committed eight turnovers in the game.
Meredith also struggled from the field in the first half, going 0-3 outside and 1-7 overall, hitting one close runner in the paint.
The Bearcat run cut the lead to 9-8.
Then East Surry started finding open men against the pressure and beat Hendersonville for three inside baskets, going up 15-8.
Hendersonville called a timeout with 1:57 left in the period.
Guard Shawn Rogers hit a three and a layup as the Bearcats crept closer to 19-15 at the end of the quarter.
The second period was a different story. After lots of inside scoring, the Bearcats opened play with three long bombs and a put-back to run off 11 straight points and take a 26-19 lead.
Just when East looked like it might get blown out, Eli Gilbert and Drew Alley hit threes of their own to pull the Cards close again.
Carson Long gave the team a boost off the bench. He blocked two shots, made a free throw and buried a three-pointer as the Cards temporarily retook the lead at 33-31.
Hendersonville went back up 39-35 at the break.
Coach Jason Anderson said he felt like his team contested shots pretty well, but Hendersonville kept hitting them. The Bearcats shot 7-14 from long range in the first half.
The first half featured a lot of bumping that wasn’t called by officials.
“That’s postseason basketball,” said Coach Jason Anderson. “It’s always physical this time of year. The further you go, the more physical it gets.”
The Cards appeared to adjust to the officiating better than the Bearcats, who began the third quarter with a slew of fouls. In the first five and a half minutes, East Surry had committed one foul and Hendersonville had eight team fouls.
Still, despite the fouls, the Bearcats went up eight points at 45-37. Coach Marvin Featherstone said he thought his Bearcats were going to pull away at that point.
“After we took the lead, we went totally flat,” Featherstone said. The shots the team was hitting in the first half, the shots they were hitting all season stopped going in.
“I felt like I was settling for threes when I wasn’t hitting them,” admitted Hendersonville’s Rishad Felton, who was 1-8 from deep in the second half after going 3-6 in the first half.
When they started missing from outside, it let East Surry back in, Anderson said.
Hendersonville shot 1-13 (8 percent) from three-point range in the second half.
Meanwhile, East Surry only attempted four long shots. Instead, they attacked the paint and made 11-13 shots from two-point range.
The Cards cut the lead to two points on an inside basket by Tyler Pardue at the end of the third quarter.
Pardue then opened the fourth with another basket to tie the score 48-all.
“They came out ready to play,” Featherstone said of the Cards. “I felt like in the fourth quarter, they wanted it more than we did.”
The Cards were stronger with the ball against the pressure.
“That was part of the game plan, being strong with the ball against their trapping defense,” said Anderson. “If you beat it with the pass, good things will happen.”
“We struggled with the trap at the beginning of the game,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if it was the magnitude of the game. Once we settled down, we got some easy looks out of it.”
When the Cards weren’t scoring in transition, the players were muscling their way to the rim inside.
Featherstone said he felt like his players were getting into good defensive position, but the Cards were going right through them.
Pardue had 11 of his 13 points in the second half. Brim scored 12 points on 6-7 shooting. Eli Gilbert was 6-8 for a team-high 16 points.
“Eli’s really stepped it up well,” said Anderson.
Alley and Meredith added 12 points each, and Long finished with eight off the bench.
Hendersonville’s Shawn Rogers said when he looked at the stat sheet, he saw that he and Rishad Felton each took more than 20 shots, but the rest of the team hardly scored. When he looked at East Surry’s scoring, Rogers saw a team that shared the ball well.
“I appreciate all the support we had down here,” Anderson said. “I hope they can make the trip (today), too. … I’m proud of them and the community should be as well.”
The Cardinals play in the title game today at 1:30 p.m. at UNC-Greensboro.