Facing a 12-point deficit late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs needed someone to step up against South Greene in the Region 1-A boys basketball championship Thursday night at Chuckey-Doak Middle School.
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had everyone step up, especially their big stars Stanley Valentine and Cody McClain in a 69-63 comeback victory over the Rebels.
“It’s never fun coming from behind,” McClain said after his 19-point performance. “But, we rallied together. South Greene is a great team and No. 20 (Nick Fillers) can shoot the lights out. We were just able to rally and get the win.”
Hampton (28-5) will face a familar foe, Grace Christian, in next Monday’s sectional round. The Rams eliminated the Bulldogs from the postseason in last year’s sectional.
South Greene (15-14) will head to Meigs County for its sectional game.
For Hampton, no one was bigger than Valentine, who ended with 24 points and 11 rebounds. The junior post had six points in a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter which pulled the Bulldogs back within two of the Rebels.
Although he ended with the tournament MVP award, Valentine was quick to deflect praise to teammates McClain and Tyler Moody, who came off the bench to score 13 points.
“I’ve played with Cody the last two years and I knew when it was time to come up big, Cody is going to come up big,” Valentine said. “Cody could easily drop 40 (points) a night if he wanted to, but his game is to make everyone around him better. With a point guard like that on your team, there is no way you’re going to lose.
“Tyler, he’s as tough as they come. He’s going to go to the boards no matter what. I do the best I can to get rebounds for our team and to make our shooters comfortable. It’s all about getting that ‘W.’”
On the defensive end, the Bulldogs were finally able to contain Fillers. The South Greene wing was held scoreless in the final period after burning Hampton for a game-high 25 points, including seven 3-point baskets, over the first three quarters.
“The kids battled back, even being 10 points down with five (minutes) to go,” Hampton coach Ned Smith said. “We left Fillers open all game. In the fourth quarter, we finally found him and got a hand in his face. He’s a big-time player, a good shooter.”
Hampton jumped out early, scoring the game’s first nine points and jumping out to a 13-3 lead.
South Greene fought back to trail 20-14 at the end of one quarter. The Rebels kept pressing in the second quarter, scoring the last eight points of the half to take a 35-32 lead into the break.
Fillers then scored 15 points, all on 3-pointers, in the third quarter as the Rebels pulled out to a 56-46 advantage heading into the final quarter. In the fourth, however, they were outscored 23-7 by the Bulldogs.
“They shut our shooter down and trapped us a couple of times on the sideline,” South Greene coach Stephen Gregg said. “We went nuts and threw it all over the place. They’re good and I knew we had to play the perfect game to beat that bunch.
“We had some let-downs in the fourth quarter, but other than that, I’m absolutely 100 percent tickled to death with my kids. They played hard and came out to win.”
Although Hampton went undefeated through the Watauga Valley Conference and easily beat South Greene 70-55 in District 1-A championship a week earlier, Smith warned his players they were in for a fight.
“We talked about it again at halftime,” Smith said. “We knew it was going to be down-to-the-wire, although we didn’t know we were going to get down by 10. I told them we couldn’t go out there and start throwing it up. We had to stay calm, get to the hole and do some good things.”
Obviously talented, Valentine said it’s team chemistry which separates Hampton from most teams. It has been reflected with so many different players being the leading scorer in games throughout the season.
“Everybody on this team is like a family,” Valentine said. “We know we’re the best when we share the ball. When we do that, nobody can stop us.”