NEWLAND — Revenge couldn’t be sweeter for the Granite Bears.
A little over a year after falling in a NCHSAA 1A state playoff game at Avery County, Mount Airy’s boys were back in town for a rematch on Tuesday night, this time with a trip to the West Regional final on the line for the winner.
The Bears used a monster second quarter to take a 33-27 halftime lead over the Vikings, and pulled away down the stretch in the second half to claim an 80-66 victory.
Mount Airy, now 25-6 on the season and ranked No. 3 in the state’s 1A ranks by MaxPreps.com, will play again on Saturday at either Fleming Gymnasium at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro or the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem for the right to advance to the state finals. Their opponent will be Lincoln Charter, who upset top-ranked Winston-Salem Prep 75-65 in another game played on Tuesday night. They will find out today what venue the game will take place at.
The Bears’ rematch with Avery began as a defensive struggle that saw the Vikings (24-5) jump out to an early 14-4 lead before the visitors responded with three straight baskets to cut the deficit to 14-10 after one period. Then, as it did in its previous two playoff wins, Mount Airy was able to force its opponent to play at a faster tempo in the second quarter, and the sped-up pace wasn’t to the home team’s liking. Down by six early in the second, the Bears reeled off seven straight to lead for the first time at 25-24. Mount Airy outscored Avery 23-13 in the second quarter and stormed to a 33-27 advantage going into the locker room by once again scoring the last six points of the frame.
The Vikings again managed to slow things down a bit after the break, closed to within four at one point, but still went to the fourth quarter down by eight. In the final quarter, the Bears stood their ground against the Vikings and a hostile crowd, and Avery was forced to start fouling relatively early on. The tactics didn’t do them any good, as Mount Airy’s players calmly stepped to the line and made their free throws. Ryan Graham was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line in the final period, and the Bears as a team went 10-for-11 from the line in the final 95 seasons of the game, in which Mount Airy extended its lead from 66-60 to the final 14-point margin.
Avery’s last gasp came with 42 seconds remaining, when Bailey Autry knocked down three foul shots after a controversial foul on Donavon Greene outside the arc. This made it 74-66, and Bears coach Levi Goins called time-out to make sure his team didn’t make any costly mistakes. Coming out of the time-out, Mount Airy inbounded to Caleb Arrington, who swished two free throws with 40 seconds to play. The Vikings missed a three at their end, and Jackson Smith rebounded and fired a long pass to Gregory Greene for a layup that put the Bears up by a dozen with 30 seconds left and sealed the victory.
Arrington led the Bears with 24 points. Each of the Greene brothers and Graham contributed 14 points. Jeffrey Puckett led Avery with 24, and Deacon Heath added 19.