The home crowd began to heat up when Layton Jackson helped Pleasant Grove climb out of a hole of its own making by draining a three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to help the Hawks regain a lead squandered against Paris.
Perhaps sensing that a talented and deep group of players was beginning to meld into an elite team, the crowd worked itself into a frenzy in the opening moments of the fourth quarter when Ben Harmon drove the baseline and kicked the ball out to his wide-open brother, Luke, for a three-pointer. That was followed moments later by a steal and a perfect pass from Luke Harmon to Kameron Jackson for another three and a lead PG would never relinquish.
The 56-48 final left Pleasant Grove’s boys at 6-1 in district 14-4A, a full two games ahead of Paris and North Lamar with three to play.
Earlier in the evening, the girls overcame a sluggish start to demolish the Lady Wildcats, 61-37, to set up a showdown with Liberty-Eylau Tuesday at the Radar Dome for the district championship in the last game of the regular season. Both teams will come in at 8-1 in district and, whatever the outcome, both will be expected to make a run in the playoffs.
Lady Hawks 61, Paris 37
Pleasant Grove (19-7, 8-1) was cold in the opening minutes, allowing Paris to shoot out to an 8-2 lead midway through the first period.
Things started to go the Hawks way when Sha’Nequa Henry worked herself wide-open under the basket on an inbounds pass and sank the easy layup. Moments later, Madeline Haak intercepted a pass and drove the length of the court for another layup to pull PG within two.
Monique Walker followed that by driving the lane, drawing a foul and sinking both free throws.
Then Abby Hines went to work. On three straight Paris possessions she came down with rebounds and fired the ball downcourt to start the fast break. Two of those were inside buckets by Haak to give the Hawks a 12-10 lead with 51 seconds to play.
In the closing seconds, Hines drove into the paint, made her shot, was fouled and completed the three-point play to make it 15-10 at the end of one.
It was a route after that. Henry had eight points in the second quarter and Haak had five as PG outscored Paris 15-4 in the second quarter to go into the locker room with a 30-19 margin. The third quarter was a 16-2 Pleasant Grove run.
Henry was the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, and Haak was close behind with 15. Ashanti Levingston, who had to be carried off the court in the fourth quarter, had 13. Hines had eight.
Liberty-Eylau (16-11, 8-1) Friday night won its fourth straight following a 65-62 loss on Jan. 19 at PG by beating Pittsburg on the road, 65-35.
Pleasant Grove 56, Paris 48
In the beginning, the contest with Billy Mack Steed’s Paris Wildcats looked like a laugher.
Everything the Hawks tried worked.
Kameron Woods, the game’s leading scorer with 23, hit back-to-back three pointers, followed by another trey from Noah Fawbush as the Hawks raced out to a 15-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was more of the same. Layton Jackson, who would finish with 12 points, dropped in a three-pointer. A few minutes later he went high in the air to put back a rebound. Ben Harmon launched a three-point try that hit nothing but the very bottom of the net, and just like that, PG was up 26-8 with 5 minutes left in the half.
“We’re young and maybe we’re nervous at the beginning of a game,” Steed said. “We couldn’t hit any shots. That’s what we did all night against North Lamar.”
In that game, the Wildcats were outscored 9-0 in the first quarter and ended with a 31-22 loss. This time, Paris nearly overcome its slow start.
“The one thing we did well is we didn’t quit,” Steed said.
After PG built an 18-point margin in the second quarter, Paris closed to within 11 before Fawbush hit another three pointer and Woods hit a jumper to give the Hawks a 32-17 halftime lead.
Then things started to fall apart. Helped by five PG turnovers, including three in a row, the Wildcats outscored the Hawks 21-7 in the third quarter. Trey Johnson, who led Paris with 18 points, dropped in seven during the run as Paris climbed into a 38-36 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the quarter.
That’s about the time that a change made by PG coach Billy Brewer began to assert itself. He went to his bench and sent in Fawbush, Layton Jackson and Ben and Luke Harmon.
“We have 10 good players on this team who are capable of playing,” he said, “and we needed to make a change.”
That’s exactly what those four, plus Woods, did.
Layton Jackson’s and Luke Harmon’s shot gave the Hawks the lead. Paris called a timeout, and Steed, who has probably made four mistakes in his illustrious coaching career, made a big one, sending six players out onto the court.
Luke Harmon hit one of the resulting two technical free throws to make it 46-38 with 6:55 to play.
Woods took it from there, scoring the next 10 points to put the Wildcats away. Jackson finished with 12 points and Fawbush had eight.
“They have some nice shooters,” Steed said wryly. “I wish we had some, but PG is a very good team.”
Good enough to go far in the playoffs?
“I don’t know about that,” Steed said.
Brewer, who in all his years as a player and coach has never advanced past the regional semifinals, said he is still waiting for his talented team to put together a complete game.
“I love this team. I love these kids,” Brewer said. “We came out and played great defense and great offense, and when adversity hit, we didn’t self-destruct like we did against Pittsburg.
“We’re coming together,” he added. “We have a good team. We just have to play hard.”