No. 2 Hoggard 60 No. 1 New Hanover 57
After coming out on the wrong end in a pair of games decided by five points or less against their Wilmington rival earlier this season, the Hoggard boys’ basketball team used a complete effort for 32 minutes to secure its second straight Mideastern Conference Tournament Championship with a 60-57 win against New Hanover on Friday.
Seniors A.J. Frye, Xavier Johnson and Jack Bagley all finished in double figures, while Robert Wilkerson and Walker Bateman played key roles during portions of the contest to give the Vikings momentum heading into the state playoffs.
“We showed some toughness tonight,” said Hoggard Coach Brett Queen. “There have been times this season where we’ve had some difficult moments, but I sensed something different from our guys in the last couple of weeks. You have a bunch of seniors playing a lot of minutes and there’s a sense of urgency right now. There’s been a lot of leadership from them and they did a great job on both ends of the floor. It was fun watching them tonight.”
Playing in front of a packed house at Brunswick Community College, Hoggard and New Hanover traded blows through most of the night. The Vikings went 18 of 23 from the free throw line and Bagley sank his fourth shot from beyond the arc with 1:04 left in regulation to gain a 59-53 edge.
Acchaeus Fields brought the Wildcats to within two in the final minute with a pair of foul shots to go along with a block and two more from the charity stripe on the other end of the floor, but the comeback attempt was not enough as New Hanover dropped its only contest against a league opponent this season.
Fields hit 12 of his game-high 25 points in the final frame to keep the Wildcats in the game as Hoggard took advantage of their opportunities after getting into the bonus at the 4:55 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Vikings had an answer for every New Hanover rally, with a 7-0 run to close the first quarter tied, 16-16. Wilkerson scored six of his eight points during the final two minutes of the opening period, while an 8-2 push before the break made it 32-24 in favor of Hoggard.
Fields capped a 10-1 effort by the Wildcats to put the No. 1 seed in front 34-33 with 3:30 left in the third frame, but back-to-back three-pointers by Bagley sparked a 9-2 spurt to finish the stanza in front, 42-36, following points in the paint by Frye. Bagley went 4 of 6 from long range and ended with 16 points.
“Anytime they get momentum and you’re able to take it back, that’s pretty big,” said Bagley. “We’ve played in a lot of close games against them, but this was the best one. There’s nothing better than this.”
Frye, Bagley and Johnson combined for 17 rebounds. Frye had 19 points and went 9 of 10 from the foul line. Johnson brought the crowd to its feet with a two-handed baseline dunk midway through fourth quarter to go up 52-45, and chipped in with 11 points. Bateman scored all six points at the foul line, going 6-for-8.
Conversely, New Hanover hit 14 of 24 at the line, falling to 21-5 on the year. Shaq Hampton had 10 points in the setback.
Both the Wildcats and Hoggard (19-8) will get a first-round home game to open the state playoffs. Their opponents are yet to be determined as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association will release the 4A bracket over the next few days.
“We’ve struggled in games like this all year long,” Queen added. “These games are always battles. This is what a championship game should be. You should have to earn it and we did.”