AMERICUS -- One common denominator in the Sherwood Christian boys' nine previous wins before Friday's contest at Southland Academy was building double-digit leads.
Another was nearly blowing them.
That was not the case, however, against the GISA Class AAA Raiders as coach Matt Ruta's Class AA Eagles went on a 17-3, second-half run for a 55-39 victory
That's the best we've closed a game by far," Ruta said. "We had really focused on closing games out during the past couple of weeks."
Brannan Anthony led Sherwood (10-4) with 17 points, followed by Wesley Pittman and Gary Holloway with 10 each. Calling in from the road after previous close wins, Ruta often expressed frustration at his team's lack of intensity near game's end.
Pittman also had
experienced that frustration but did not show any after Friday's win. Making two 3-pointers during Friday's game, Pittman said the timing could not be better for Sherwood to build a lead and hold it since the region playoffs are a month away.
"In the playoffs, all the teams are good so they are going to make a run at you," Pittman said. "Hopefully, we can repeat this in the future."
Ruta, however, did become frustrated at times during the first half after Sherwood built a double-digit lead and had trouble adjusting to Southland's slower pace.
"We play best at a fast pace, and Southland did a really good job in slowing things down," Ruta said.
Sherwood began its game-changing run with defense when Anthony blocked a Rolie Hancock shot. Eagles teammate John Schramm then made a steal that resulted in a Pete McSwain layup and 31-24 lead. A strong move for a layup by Holloway kept the momentum from the third quarter as the Eagles' defense created key turnovers, leading to a 46-27 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles, from there, never looked back.
"Our defense was the key," Anthony said. "It just came up big for us. We played hard on defense, especially in the second half, and had great energy all the way around."
Raiders coach Ernest Scott, on the other hand, is just trying to build on his team's youth and inexperience. It struggled when Sherwood sped up the pace at game's end.
"They got a lot of transitional baskets and that came from unforced turnovers," Scott said. "We didn't get back enough in transition."
Southland (6-11) was led by Andres Chaparro with 15 points, followed by Jose Hernandez with 10.
SOUTHLAND GIRLS 50, SHERWOOD 33:
The Lady Eagles only scored four points during the first quarter, and they all came from the foul line.
Princess Williams scored Sherwood's first basket early in the second quarter, but an 18-4 Lady Raiders lead after the first was too much to overcome. The Lady Raiders play an up-tempo Deerfield-Windsor team on Tuesday, so they practiced their press against Sherwood, breaking the game open.
"We are looking for intensity and aggressiveness, and I feel we made some progress there," said Southland coach Paula McDonald, whose team is 12-7. "We did some things well, but there are still a lot of things I feel we can improve on."
Alex Lindsey and Sara Cathryn Parker led the Lady Raiders with 14 points apiece, followed by Tobi West with 12.
"We just had trouble at times breaking their press," said Sherwood coach Rebecca Fyock, whose team is 6-7. "When we were able to get past their press and set up our offense, we were fine. We just have to keep working on that."
Sherwood was led by Emilee Cook's eight points.