Both Johnson County boys Middle School teams had very successful games against the Hampton Bulldogs, an especially surprising feat considering the huge fan turnout on the road. While the eighth grade team ultimately came up a few points short of the win, Coach Larry Grindstaff had only praises for his players effort.
Hampton is a tough team, Grindstaff said. Most of the time they just walk off and leave us, but tonight my boys surprised me and a lot of the others too. Im proud of them. I dont have anything bad to say, we just need to work on a lot of stuff. They can handle pressure pretty good, but any 13 or 14 year old boy, theyre going to get nervous and they just start throwing the ball around. Thats something we need to work on but eventually theyll get it. Theyll mature. Like I said, Im proud of them. We could have got blown out of the gym tonight. I was worried about it but it turned out pretty good.
Offensively the eighth grade team relied heavily on players like Austin Houser, Dakota Wright, and Nick Whitener, who together put up the majority of Johnson Countys 40 points.
Working around the Bulldog defense, Houser was able to get several clean looks, allowing him to put up a few critical shots and keep his team ahead most of the game. Despite ultimately coming up just five points away from the win, Houser was happy with how his team worked together. I feel pretty good, Houser said. We played really well together except for the fourth quarter where we were getting a little tired. We just try to play really hard and go out there and play to win. This is definitely something we can build off of. Weve just got to keep practicing and getting better as we go.
Johnson County managed to keep up a very narrow lead throughout the first three quarters despite falling behind for several minutes at the beginning of the third. By the fourth quarter the game was tied at 33, but starting with a trip to the foul line the Bulldogs were quick to jump ahead. With two more fouls against them and less than a minute left in the game, Johnson County was faced with a four point deficit at 37-41. Another Bulldog basket pushed the lead to eight, but even then there was time for one last Longhorn three pointer to close out the game 40-45.
While the eighth grade turned out to be close run in the end, the real story of the night actually came earlier. Undefeated in their conference, the seventh grade boys had already handed Hampton one of their only losses earlier in the season, but were unprepared for the slugfest in store for them on the Bulldogs home turf.
According to Coach Brad Reece, This has been a great season. We played most of our games really well, but his game was a little rougher. We beat Hampton by 17 at home the first time, and I told the kids that Hampton would play a lot better at their place. I thought that they would play harder, shoot better, and it would be a tough game, but they didnt believe me, and they didnt come out ready to play so the first half was ugly.
By the third quarter the Longhorns were trailing the Bulldogs by 13, and with a strong three-point shooter working against them, things did not look good for Johnson County. A shift in the Longhorn defense midway through the period, bought players like Bud Icenhour and Gage Hampton enough time to start whittling away at the lead. Aided by an equally strong showing from Nathan Arnold, the game finally started to turn around in the last couple of minutes before the fourth.
The way our team is we score off of transition, said Reece. But to come at halftime and be down by eight or nine and then play with the intensity we had in the second half and really play defense, I couldnt be prouder of them. When we play hard defense and create turnovers, thats when we end up winning the game.
Closing out the third at 24-27, Gage Hampton was quick to land a big shot early in the fourth, and with a follow up from Arnold, pushed the Longhorns into the lead for the first time. A Hampton three pointer tied the game up one last time at 30, but taking the momentum with a couple of free throws from Bud Icenhour, the Longhorns were determined to come away with the win. A last second basket from Arnold coupled with a final free throw from Icenhour finished up the game at 35-30.
The first half we didnt do so hot, Icenhour said after the game. We lost the first half but we came back in the second and we played better defense to win. Weve never played defense like that before, its the best weve ever played. It feels pretty good.
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