Mount Airy’s boys basketball team fully expected a challenge from West Stokes on Friday night.
The Wildcats came to town with a 4-1 record, regarded as a contender in the Western Piedmont 2-A Conference this season, and their only loss was against an undefeated 4-A squad from Winston-Salem. This was going to be a test for the Granite Bears under the best of circumstances.
Instead, they got pretty much the worst of circumstances.
They won anyway.
“We as coaches have to figure out how things are going to be called early,” said Mount Airy coach Levi Goins. “Unfortunately, tonight it didn’t bode well in our favor, but we had several guys step up and make big plays, and we had a lot of people play smart. I’m very proud of these guys.”
Despite getting no more than about a quarter’s worth of play from all-conference big man Clay Mounce thanks to foul trouble, Mount Airy refused to back down against the physical Wildcats and led for all but about one minute of the game, finally pulling away in the final stages for a well-deserved 61-49 victory.
The Bears, ranked No. 3 in the state’s 1-A classification according to MaxPreps.com, stayed unbeaten at 6-0.
“If you’d told me before the game that Clay was only going to play a few minutes in this game, and we would still come out with a win, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Goins.
The coach said he had confidence in his team’s ability to battle West Stokes even without their star, but even he didn’t expect the resilience that the Granite Bears displayed in holding off repeated runs by the visitors.
Mounce already had two personal fouls, both of them questionable calls, after 59 seconds of play. Even so, Mount Airy dominated the first three and a half minutes of the game, and when Jackson Smith scored on a putback on a missed 3-pointer at the 4:20 mark, the Wildcats were forced to spend their second timeout of the night, already down 11-2.
West Stokes held the Bears off the scoreboard the rest of the quarter, during which Mounce checked back in for a few seconds, long enough to pick up a third personal on a charging call. Still, Mount Airy clung to an 11-10 lead when the period ended.
The Wildcats tied it at 13 on a 3-pointer by Caleb Brewster with six and a half minutes left in the first half, then took their only lead at 15-13 on a short jumper by Noah Spainhour moments later. But Harrison Joyce answered with a trey of his own, and the teams then swapped runs. Three-balls from Ryan Graham and then Joyce again gave Mount Airy a 22-15 lead, then West Stokes went on a 7-0 run, tying the game on Josh Turner’s layup with 1:50 left in the second quarter.
Will Sparks nailed a three from the top of the key for Mount Airy shortly thereafter, and the Bears led 25-22 at halftime. They never trailed again.
Goins re-inserted Mounce to start the second half, only to see him called for a fourth foul after just 33 seconds. Mount Airy led by as many as seven in the third quarter, but couldn’t put West Stokes away.
The lead remained precarious until the fourth quarter. Turner pulled the Wildcats to within 37-35 with seven minutes to go. Moments later, at the other end, Mounce got to the free-throw line and made one of two. It was a quiet beginning to what would be the Bears’ finishing kick.
Sparks hit another three on Mount Airy’s next possession, and then Mounce rebounded a missed shot and started a fastbreak, which Jackson Smith finished for a 43-35 lead with 5:25 remaining. That was the Bears’ biggest lead of the night to that point, but not for long. West Stokes — and perhaps the referees — had awakened the sleeping giant. Mounce grabbed another rebound and sprinted the other way, missed a close-in shot and then stuck it back for a 10-point Mount Airy lead.
The advantage got to 12 before the Wildcats made one last run, closing to with 49-43 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Turner with 2:41 remaining. The teams then traded buckets before the Bears chose to hold the ball as time ran under two minutes, forcing West Stokes to play man-to-man defense. After more than 45 seconds ran off the clock, Mounce cut to the basket and scored. The Wildcats missed a quick shot at the other end and Sparks raced back the other way, scoring to make it 55-45 with 1:09 left.
“In the fourth quarter, when the lead got to six, we really executed in the halfcourt,” Goins said of his team’s keep-away game in the final minutes.
In the final minute of play, Mounce dunked the ball twice, first as the recipient of an assist from Caleb Arrington and then as the outlet man on a fastbreak.
Sparks led the Bears with 15 points. Arrington added 13, and Smith and Mounce each tallied nine. Graham scored seven, Joyce six and Donavon Greene two. For West Stokes, Turner led the way with 17, followed by Spainhour with 12 and Kameron Wall with 10.
The Bears host North Stokes on Tuesday night.
Mount Airy 72, West Stokes 11
In the girls game, the state’s second-ranked 1-A team came out aggressively from the opening tip and scored the first 10 points of the contest. But that was just the beginning of things.
Starting with about two minutes left in the first quarter, the Lady Bears went on a 44-0 run that didn’t end until Alyssa Duggins scored on a short jumper with 7:11 left in the game. Those were the only points scored by the Lady Wildcats (0-4) in the last 25 minutes of the game.
The game was played with a continuous clock after Ayano Shelton scored with 3:40 to go in the third quarter, giving Mount Airy a 59-9 advantage.
Jo Snow led the Lady Bears (6-0) with 21 points. Sarah Lankford added 19, 15 of them on made 3-pointers in the first half. Shelton added 10, Lexi France eight, Cora Bledsoe four, Madison Hall and Shalin Revels three each, and Megan Fleming and Kirby Allen two each.
Duggins led West Stokes with six points. Taylor Cunningham added three and Avery Darida scored two.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.