Boys lose steam at Hopewell

Published 12:30 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

In the third quarter at Hopewell, the Davie boys basketball team electrified its fans by hitting seven 3-pointers and turning a six-point halftime deficit into a three-point lead.

As the War Eagles headed into the fourth, they had visions of an upset win the first round of the 4-A playoffs.

It wasn’t meant to be. The War Eagles were as ice cold in the fourth as they were scorching hot in the third, and the Titans could do no wrong in the last eight minutes, resulting in a 71-57 Hopewell win in Huntersville on Feb. 21.

“We made a good run,” coach Josh Pittman said. “I was proud of the total effort. We really came to play. We played a heck of a game.”

In the opening seconds, Davie jumped to a 5-0 lead behind a Hayden Williams 3 and a driving bucket by Coleman Lawhon. Hopewell shrugged that off and responded with a 21-4 run.

After falling behind by 12, the War Eagles showed their grit by closing the half on a 17-11 run. After Williams hit a 3, freshman backup point guard Gavin Reese scored five straight for Davie with three free throws sandwiched around a floater.

“Gavin was composed,” Pittman said. “He took care of the ball for the most part. He started to understand that the only way you can deal with front-on pressure is you’ve got to go by them, protect the ball and make a play.”

The push at the end of the half included a 12-footer by Ian Koontz, a Williams 3, a Williams fast-break layup off a defensive rebound by Reese and an Ethan Ratledge putback.

At halftime, Davie was within striking distance at 32-26. Williams carried Davie in the half with 12 points. Reese was Davie’s No. 2 scorer at intermission thanks to his lift off the bench, and Lawhon played an important role with five rebounds.

Then came Davie’s awesome third quarter. When Williams sank a 3 early in the third, the senior shooting guard had 15 of Davie’s 32 points.

A 28-19 tear by the War Eagles featured two highlight-reel plays: Pushing the ball in transition, Lawhon used a stutter-step before faking a pass to his right. He finished with a layup. With five seconds left in the third, Lawhon took an inbound pass in the backcourt and sped down the floor. He knifed inside the arc and kicked to the left wing to Rosenbaum, who buried a 3 as the horn sounded. It was a beautiful moment that produced a 54-51 lead.

Davie hit 10 of 17 field goals in the third, including an incredible 7 of 9 from the arc. Rosenbaum had 11 points and three 3s in the third; Jackson Powers had nine points and two 3s; and Lawhon and Williams combined for the other eight points.

The Titans, though, seemingly flipped a switch in the fourth, scoring 11 unanswered points to grab a 62-54 lead. When Powers took a pass from Reese and buried a 3, Davie had hope at 62-57 with 3:18 to play – but that proved to be Davie’s final points. The War Eagles went 1 for 9 from the floor in the fourth.

“We were playing good defense, but eventually the other team is going to score,” Pittman said after Davie was outscored 20-3 in the fourth.

Pittman called for a box-and-one on Hopewell’s foremost weapon, 5-11 junior point guard Quay Watson, who entered with a 24-point scoring average. The strategy couldn’t have worked much better. In the first half, with Rosenbaum essentially wearing the same jersey as Watson, the Titan had zero points on 0-4 shooting, picking up his third foul with 3:53 remaining in the second. After missing his first five shots, Watson found a little groove and finished with 11 points and three assists on 4-9 shooting with a pair of 3s. Rosenbaum guarded Watson most of the time, with Braddock Coleman drawing the assignment periodically.

“We held the main guy down,” Pittman said. “I was happy about that. We got him out of his comfort zone.”

Kamari Cooke, a 6-0 sophomore, got the first-half buckets that Hopewell needed to establish a solid lead. He scored 11 of his eventual 20 in the opening half.

But ultimately, the biggest difference-maker for Hopewell was Derrick Eley, a 6-0 junior. He scored 11 of his 20 in the fourth.

“Those city guards know how to play,” Pittman said. “They attack and play one-on-one type basketball. They made that last push and we really didn’t have an answer for it. (Cooke) kept them ahead in the first half, and (Eley) killed us in the fourth.”

The consolation prize for the War Eagles: Their two seniors went out with a bang. Williams connected for four treys and scored a team-high 15 points. Rosenbaum went 3 of 4 from deep and scored 13.

“In spurts, both of them were two of the three best players on the court – for both teams,” Pittman said. “Hayden shot it well and was aggressive. He didn’t shy away from the moment. Burke just continued his progress from the last 5-10 games. They both became better leaders. They both became more vocal. I have nothing but joy and positivity and prideful thoughts on being able to coach them in my first year here because both made a difference – with one (Rosenbaum) going from not playing (as a junior) and the other (Williams) going from being on the team but not playing. It shows the work that they put in.”

Powers (six rebounds, four assists) matched Rosenbaum with 13 points. Lawhon had seven points, six rebounds and three assists. Reese had five points and two assists. Ratledge had two points, five rebounds and three assists. Koontz had two points and three boards.

With Pittman and assistant Will Tibbs pulling the strings, several players made remarkable jumps. After averaging 2.7 points as a freshman, Powers delivered big all season and averaged a team-best 14.7. After averaging 4.8 as a sophomore, Lawhon climbed to 12.8 as a junior. After averaging 1.5 and only appearing in 12 games as a junior, Williams ranked third as a senior at 9.9. Ratledge averaged 6.7 in his first varsity season. Rosenbaum (6.4) became a big piece after starting the season as a reserve.

The gym was bonkers for most of Davie’s 11 home games, and the War Eagles (17-9) did something they didn’t dream possible in November by becoming the 11th team in 68 years to finish with 17 wins.

“You want your teams to get better as they go,” Pittman said. “The progression of our team was amazing and fun to watch. Before the season, the first thing I told Will is we’ve got work to do, but we’ve got the pieces to surprise a lot of people. I will say I didn’t expect us to improve and become as solid as we did so quickly. They competed and played hard to the best of their ability, if not more.”

It was obvious from the beginning that the War Eagles trusted and connected with Pittman. Williams and Rosenbaum will cherish the memories.

“This season meant everything to me,” Williams said. “Being able to play for coach Pittman and coach Tibbs was truly a blessing. There’s so many things I can take away on the court, but there’s much more I can take away as a person and bettering myself in that aspect. Both coach Pittman and coach Tibbs care just as much about bettering you as a person as they do as a player. This year meant everything to me, from exceeding people’s expectations, growing as a team and creating a culture with Davie basketball that has long been missed.”

“This season meant a lot to me because I didn’t really know if I was going to play and didn’t know what to expect,” Rosenbaum said. “I had a lot of fun going to work everyday with those guys. Coach Pittman and coach Will (Tibbs) will not know how much I appreciate them for this season because they expect a lot from us, but they are great coaches and it showed this year. Playing for coach Pittman was amazing because he expects the same out of everyone no matter who you are, and he will never know how thankful I am that I got to play basketball under him.”

Notes: Hopewell, seeded 14th in the 32-team West Region, improved to 15-11. Davie was the 19th seed. … Davie has six straight winning seasons, a program record. … Davie hit 26 of 53 3s in the last two games. … The Central Piedmont Conference went 2-3 in the first round. East Forsyth (85-79 over Butler) and Mt. Tabor (83-43 over Porter Ridge) advanced, but West Forsyth lost 63-59 to A.C. Reynolds and Reagan lost 55-46 to Piedmont. In the second round, East won 59-52 over Lake Norman and Tabor beat Southwest Guilford 56-53. In the third round, East lost 88-55 to North Mecklenburg and Tabor lost 57-53 to Chambers. … Hopewell was routed 85-61 by No. 1 North Meck in the second round. … Next year Pittman will be stocked with experienced depth. Workouts for next season will begin in late March, and he will hold a camp for rising third-ninth graders June 19-22.