With the regular season coming to a close, Brian Middleton is looking for his varsity squad to finish out strong. After winning two straight district games on Tuesday against Winston and a tough 54-52 win against Manchester in Yazoo City, the Raiders failed to bring the same energy and focus on Saturday against regional rival Starkville Academy, falling 56-37 in the contest
Coming into Friday night’s game, the Raiders knew what they were up against: a dangerous team hoping to knock off a top tier district team in front of their home fans. Historically, Oak Hill has never played up to their capabilities in the Mavericks’ gym, but the home team always plays with incredible energy. The tone of the game was set in the first period of play. The Mavericks were able to win the first quarter 17-16, an ominous sign for Oak Hill that this would be no easy game. The second quarter was dead even, with neither team pulling off a run before going into halftime with a 28-27 contest favoring Manchester. The third quarter was much of the same, another 11-11 quarter to keep the game tight heading into the final quarter of play. The Raiders had many chances to put the game away from the line in the third, but they failed to convert, shooting 21-35 from the charity stripe on the night. However, foul trouble took its toll on the Mavericks as three players fouled out in the final two minutes, including their leading scorer Josh Peaster, who finished with 16 points. After a miserable shooting performance as a team from the free-throw line, Drake Riley made three key free throws down the stretch to bring the lead to five with four seconds left. Manchester drilled a three with one second to go and no timeouts left. All there was left to do for the Raiders was get the ball inbounds. John Wesley Williamson broke away and caught the pass streaking down the court to secure the victory to bring their district record to 5-3, with dreams of grabbing the second seed in the tournament still intact.
John Wesley Williamson led the Raiders in scoring with 17 points, followed by Riley Pierce with 11. Matthew Gwathney provided a big spark with seven points and team-high 11 rebounds. Drake Riley and Jeb Stevens added six points each. Curt Huffman and Drew Riley finished with four and three points, respectively.
Exhausted from the long road trip, the Raiders were not able to withstand the athleticism and fast-paced offense of Starkville Academy beyond the tight 15-14 first quarter. Early foul trouble put starters Curt Huffman and Riley Pierce, who had nine in the first quarter, out of first half play. Starkville seized the opportunity and pressed the Raiders while their two best ball handlers were out of the game. While Oak Hill only committed 13 turnovers in the game, the team was unable to develop any sort of rhythm on offense due to the lack of fluid ball movement provided by the two point guards, while the Volunteers had no trouble driving the lane and finishing easy shots to stretch the lead out 35-20. The third quarter held no surge or spark for the Raiders as Starkville furthered their advantage with a 14-9 quarter. The fourth quarter was played out in front of a silent crowd as the Volunteers took home the season sweep in the rivalry.
Riley Pierce and Chance Wilson led Oak Hill in scoring with nine points a piece. Curt Huffman added seven for the game. Jeb Stevens and Drew Riley finished with five and four points, respectively, while John Wesley Williamson added two. Matthew Gwathney finished with one point. The Raiders have played five straight games without their leading scorer J.J. Bridges and senior guard Conner Baird and are now 14-10 on the year.