CLEVES — The Fayetteville Rockets returned to Taylor High School Saturday night for the sectional title bout against Middletown Christian, a team the Rockets had lost to earlier in the year. A hot-hand behind the arc in the first half and a barrage of free-throws in the second doomed Fayetteville, as the team’s season came to an end with a 67-58 defeat in the sectional final.
Fayetteville had to withstand a barrage of three-point baskets in the first quarter. Both teams opened scoring with a three-point basket, but the Eagles would hit five more shots from behind the arc to take a 20-14 lead into the second quarter.
The Rockets’ offense stayed consistent in the second stanza, as the squad got baskets from four different players and scored 13 points in the period. However, the Eagles continued their hot-hand from downtown, draining three more triples and hitting a shot just before the buzzer sounded to push their halftime lead to 36-27.
In the third quarter, the Rockets trailed by as much as 15 points, though at one point the team had cut the lead down to nine. The squad faced a 51-40 deficit entering the fourth and final period.
Fayetteville opened the fourth period on a 7-0 run that cut the Middletown Christian lead to 51-47. After the teams traded baskets, the Rockets would be called for four shooting fouls in a span of 1:22 that sent the Eagles to the free-throw line six times.
The Rockets had to rally again, this time Nic Ball hit a basket that trimmed the Eagles’ lead to rive points. However, back-to-back fouls on Fayetteville sent the Eagles to the free-throw line four times with no time coming off the clock. Middletown Christian hit three of those four foul shots to extend the lead back to eight points, and the Rockets couldn’t recover.
Fayetteville head coach Darryl Iles said the team couldn’t string together a run long enough to get back into the game.
“We just could not get another stop, or we got a turnover,” Iles said. “We’d get a turnover then we’d give it right back…We didn’t execute.”
After hitting nine total three-point shots in the first half, the Eagles connected on just two in the second. However, the Eagles attempted 23 free-throws in the second half, connecting on 15 of them. Fayetteville connected on 15 of 26 free-throw attempts in the game and hit five three-pointers.
Iles said he told his team that they weren’t going to change their defensive strategy even with all the three-pointers falling.
“They were stroking it, and they were deep too,” Iles said. “Give them credit, they shot the ball very well in the first half. I told them we had to stick with what we’re doing, and they missed a lot late. We just didn’t capitalize on it.”
Max Iles led the squad with 19 points. He was the only Rocket to score in double-figures. Caleb Dowers and Max Lanham each tallied nine points while Ball and Cole Schaefer chipped in eight.
Schaefer and Dowers are two of the team’s seniors, and Iles said Dowers played the interior well, despite being roughly six-feet tall.
“He’s probably six-foot, maybe,” Iles said. “But he played above the rim a lot. Blocking shots, rebounding.”
Schaefer’s defensive ability was acknowledged by Iles, who noted the senior was often tasked with guarding the top player on the Rockets’ opponent.
“Just about every game he took at least one [charge], maybe two,” Iles said. “Just about every game he guarded the other team’s best player and he did his job.”