DOBSON — Surry Central’s boys’ basketball team won’t know until the weekend if it will return to the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs after a three-year absence. The Golden Eagles, one of a handful of teams tied for the final state playoff berth with a 9-11 final record in games counted for playoff purposes, have one shot to avoid a weekend drawing to see which team plays on and which goes home. If Central, or any of the other teams, can win its conference tournament, it earns an automatic bid and someone else gets to sweat.
The Eagles took the first step toward that goal on Monday night, pulling away in the second half to down Forbush 67-52 in the first round of the WPAC tournament.
Although the Falcons led just twice, at 3-0 and again at 20-19, the game was close well into the third quarter, when the Golden Eagles (10-14) went on a 10-0 run while things were getting chippy on the court. This increased what had been a perilous 31-29 advantage to a 41-29 bulge about five minutes into the second half. The Falcons closed the gap again in the final period, but never got closer than six.
“This wasn’t a pretty game tonight, it was a lot of helter-skelter, up-and-down,” said Surry Central coach Myles Wilmoth. “We didn’t play the best we could play, but Forbush had a lot to do with that. They did a lot of things defensively, made us speed up when we didn’t want to be sped up, but we kept our composure down the stretch and made the plays we needed to make.”
Surry Central went on a 10-2 run early in the game to take an early 10-5 lead, but the visitors were able to capitalize when Eagle big ban Dante’ Hanner picked up two early fouls and had to leave the game for an extended period of time. Central got the lead to seven, but Josh Wood and Logan Lineberry ended the opening quarter with four unanswered against the Hanner-less Eagles to close the gap to 14-11 by the buzzer.
In the second quarter, a series of strong possessions near the midway point culminated when Lineberry scored on a putback to tie the game at 19 and then Micah Cranfill made one of two free throws at the 4:49 mark for a 20-19 Forbush lead. However, the Eagles responded, retaking the lead when Noah Wilmoth went coast-to-coast with a rebound, pushing it back to four when Chandler Johnson hit a 3-pointer a minute later, and to six when Mason Wood made two free throws with 2:47 left before the break. From there, the teams traded blows until halftime, when the Eagles led 31-27.
Lineberry opened the second half with a basket for the Falcons. Central responded with a score, got a stop and then Johnson hit a three. The lead was 36-29 when decorum started to go out the window. The Eagles’ Austin Hazelwood was struck by a basketball when a Forbush player went for the “save” of a ball going out of bounds.
Hazelwood thought the “save” had come after the whistle and let his feelings be known, barely avoiding a technical foul. Less than 30 seconds later, more jawing did result in a tech, this time on the Falcons, and Johnson made one of two free throws, followed by a 16-foot jumper by Ethan Danley to give the Eagles their biggest lead of the game, at 39-29.
Forbush tried to restore order with a time-out, but Central increased its lead to a dozen when Noah Wilmoth got the ball ahead to Hanner for an easy layup. The 12-point lead stood until the end of the quarter, with Brandon Norman knocking down a three at the buzzer after Hanner had penetrated to the basket, collapsed the defense and fired outside to him.
The Falcons closed to within 58-52 on a free throw by Jackson Cooper with 3:42 to play, but the Eagles finished powerfully, not allowing Forbush to score again. Wilmoth started the conclusive rally with two free throws at the 3:20 mark. Hanner finished a fastbreak at 2:57, and then Norman and Danley made five straight free throws out of a delay game.
Johnson led the Golden Eagles with 13 points. Norman and Hanner each had a dozen, while Danley tallied 10 and Hazelwood eight. Lineberry, who fouled out in the fourth quarter, led the Falcons with 16. Wood added 12.