Drew Central sweeps Bucs

In a year where both young teams have been hit hard by sickness and untimely suspensions, Drew Central’s Pirates and Lady Pirates opened Class 3A, District 8 play in style Tuesday night. The girls got things started with a 50-33 win over Smackover at Drew Central Gymnasium, and the boys followed with a heart-stopping 66-63 victory.

Both teams will now go on the road to play Lake Village Lakeside on Friday. Three games (junior boys and both senior teams) tip off at 5 p.m.  

In the last game of the night, the Pirates started strong snd hung on to defeat the Buckaroos for the first time in three years. A 20-9 first-quarter surge—led by two three-pointers each from senior K.J. Griddine and sophomore Wooda Bell—helped Drew Central gain early control. Even though the Pirates never lost their advantage, in the final three periods Smackover cut the deficit to one point on several occasions.

“We came out hot,” said Drew Central boys’ coach C.J. Watson, whose squad improved to 7-6 on the season. “We kind of took the wind out of them in the first quarter, then we let them back in the game but we stuck to our game plan.

“We did everything we worked on (Monday). They knew, for us to win, we had to play the right way. I thought they played better together tonight than they have all year. Maybe our chemistry is becoming a little bit better and that’s big because it’s going to be like this every night. In our conference, there’s no slouches.”

Griddine poured in a team-high 27 points, and he and Bell iced the contest with 10 consecutive made free throws in the final eight minutes. Bell chipped in with 16 points for the Pirates.

As a team, Drew Central was 13-for-17 from the charity stripe during the contest—including 11-for-14 in the fourth quarter alone. Watson chuckled as he recalled that effort, but said he’ll take it.  

“That’s not Drew Central basketball,” he laughed. “I don’t know where that came from; we don’t normally make free throws. We played well. I was really proud. They stuck to the game plan, they were attentive, they kept each other up and they deserve a lot of credit for the way they played. I thought K.J. played well. I thought Wooda Bell and Gary Lucas stepped up as 10th graders and played pretty well. That’s the first time our seniors have ever beaten Smackover—so that’s a big win for Rashuan (Newton), K.J. and Miguel (Strong).”

<strong>Lady Pirates</strong>

Playing for the fourth time without two-time All-State performer Cierra Gardner, Drew Central’s senior girls recovered from a sluggish start to post a big conference victory. Not that free throws helped.   

“If you want to beat us, put us on the free-throw line,” Lady Pirates’ coach Michael Goad lamented after the game. “If we made free throws, we’d be okay.”

Drew Central was 0-for-15 in the first three quarters against the Lady Buccaroos but when it counted most, the Lady Pirates netted seven charity tosses in the final period. Still, they were just 7-for-14 in those eight minutes, making the game total an anemic 7-for-29.

“Part of it’s on me,” said Goad, who said he’d been sick all day Tuesday. “We were thrown way off our routine. But the free-throw line aside, I thought they played well.

“They did execute our game plan; I thought that served us well. Of course, in the first half we were little jittery. We were down three at the half but we came back out in the second half and played pretty well.

“We ramped up our defense in the second half. We made a few adjustments and they executed the well.  Overall, I was really proud of them. We were without Cierra again; she was suspended for disciplinary reasons. Everybody stepped up tonight in her absence.

“Everybody chipped in tonight and it made a big difference. It’s always good to get that first conference win—and at home. You’ve got to win your home games, especially in conference, and try to sneak some out on the road. That’s a good way to start.”

Holding Smackover to 11 points after intermission—and just two in the third quarter—Drew Central was able to reverse a 22-19 halftime deficit by outscoring its visitors by 20 points in the third and fourth quarters. Junior Ahnya Ridgell paced the Lady Pirates in scoring with 16 points while sophomore Amaya Partman also reached double figures, chipping in with 10 points.

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