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Hicks falls in crowdless Class C final

CHRIS SCHOONOVER | Sports Editor
Leesville Daily Leader

Unlike a lot of places in the country, the games went on. 

The Pirates overcame the unique situation and played well at times but were unable to overcome the balanced scoring attack of Pleasant Hill, as they fell 71-58 Friday afternoon at Burton Coliseum.

“I know it didn’t end the way we wanted to, but these guys have worked hard since we played summer ball in June all the way up through the preseason, districts and playoffs,” Hicks head coach Neil Standifer said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to coach them.”

The stands were empty with the only noise coming from media members on press row and the PA system, and Standifer thought the entire situation hindered his squad.

“I did think it affected us,” Standifer said. “It was kind of an awkward moment when we found out about the game today. As soon as I found out, I got them together and said ‘whatever you’re feeling, Pleasant Hill is going through the same thing.’ I told them we couldn’t use that as an excuse. It’s not an excuse, but it definitely was different playing in these circumstances.”

Pleasant Hill got out to a fast start, with Chrisoric McGhee scoring 15 points in the first quarter to lead the Eagles to a 22-10 advantage at the end of the first.

“We had a couple of guys that we knew we had to key in on, but they are so versatile and have so many guys that can score,” Standifer said. “We knew that we had our hands full, but this was the third time we played them this year, so we knew what they were going to do. They stepped up and played a good game today.”

Hicks trailed 29-13 in the second, but went on a 15-3 to end the period and went into halftime trailing 32-28.

“Once we got into the game, at least to me, I got used to it,” Hicks forward Zayne Earl said about the empty arena. “It felt like another scrimmage back in the summer, as far as atmosphere, not what was on the line.”

A pair of free throws by Earl tied it up at 34 at the 5:10 mark of the third, but Pleasant Hill ripped off another run, taking a 48-36 lead after a 3 by Christopher Scott.

“When they go on runs like that with our matchups against them, it’s dangerous,” Standifer said. “I told the guys before the game that two key factors we had to do was limit turnovers and beat them on the boards. Ultimately, we did outrebound them, but at the beginning of the game after the first quarter, they outrebounded us 11-4 and the turnover margin was 4-2. We didn’t start the way we wanted.”

Hicks responded at the beginning of the fourth, pulling within 2 after an and-1 by Earl with 3:22 to play. 

After the Earl bucket, Pleasant Hill hit its stride, once again, capitalizing off missed shots and turnovers to end the game on a 16-4 run to seal the Class C State Championship.

Austin Merchant and Earl each finished with 17 points, and guard Zalen Goodwin had 11 points and 13 boards. 

“My teammates are like my brothers,” Merchant said. “We’re the first team to make it to the finals, and we wanted to bring it home for the community and school, but we came up short. It’s been a special year for me and my team.”

As a team, Hicks went 5-for-16 from deep and had 17 turnovers. 

Friday marked the end of the basketball careers for eight Pirates seniors – Merchant, Earl, Goodwin, Da’Tron Davis, Skylar Phillips, Caleb Johnson, D’Andre Maddox and Dylan Williams.

“They’ve meant a lot,” Standifer said. “My first year at Hicks, these guys were eighth graders, and I told them when we were playing junior high ball that it isn’t about what you’re doing now, it’s about what you’re doing when you are seniors. At that point, I didn’t know what we would do. Coming in knowing that we had an opportunity today to get our school’s first championship, I’m really proud of their hard work up to this point. We came up a little bit short, and we’re definitely not happy with our performance and what happened out there.

“Overall, it’s just a great group of guys, and I’m blessed with the opportunity to have been able to coach them.”