Eastern Alamance’s men’s basketball team has been in numerous close battles this season, so it fit with the program that Tuesday night’s Senior Night encounter with Western Alamance would be a nail-biter. The game was the last regular season home game inside Tal Jobe Gymnasium for three EAHS seniors - Caleb Hester, Elijah Burnette, and Nick Blackwell.
For the second time this winter, the Eagles and Warriors went back-and-forth in a struggle that came down to the wire. But unfortunately for Eastern, Western Alamance found a way to pick up a season sweep, earning a 49-45 win over the Eagles.
As they did Monday night in a 16-point non-conference road victory at Cummings, Eastern got off to a fast start. A 3-pointer by Darius Kane and a follow-up bucket by Caleb Hester gave the Eagles an 11-6 advantage early on, and a putback by Lebron Reels gave EAHS a 15-11 lead heading into the second quarter.
Reels stole the show in the second quarter, scoring 10 of Eastern’s first 12 points in the period. The sophomore made a pair of free throws at the 4:40 mark after EAHS had gone nearly the first three and a half minutes of the second quarter without scoring. Reels’ free throws pushed Eastern back ahead, 17-15, after Western had tied the score. Reels then connected on a 3-pointer, and then collected an offensive rebound and putback basket, which gave the Eagles a 22-15 with 2:40 left in the half.
Evan Mann made a pair of free throws, which was followed by a Western Alamance 3-pointer. Reels then buried another 3-pointer, which gave the Eagles a 27-18 lead, and some good passing led to a bucket by Camden Gerlach, which made the score 29-20 in favor of the Eagles at halftime.
Unfortunately, as was the case in other Mid-State Conference home battles against frontrunners such as Northern Guilford and Person, the Eagles were unable to hang on to a well-earned halftime lead.
Although Western briefly pulled within 32-29 early in the third period, the Eagles managed to hold the Warriors off for most of the quarter. A 3-pointer by Reels gave EAHS a 37-29 lead with around three minutes remaining in the period, but Western scored the next nine points to take a stunning 38-37 lead late in the quarter, climaxed by a 4-point play on a 3-pointer and subsequent free throw by Western’s Shane Peterson after drawing a foul from Kane.
Nick Blackwell connected on a 3-pointer for the Eagles, which briefly gave the home team the lead back 40-38, but the Warriors got a basket to send the game into the fourth quarter tied, 40-40.
EAHS quickly regained the momentum at the start of the fourth quarter, as a 3-pointer by Kane led up to a slam dunk by Blackwell, which energized the crowd inside Tal Jobe Gymnasium as the Eagles went back ahead, 45-40. But once again the Warriors rallied, as Grant Daniel made a pair of free throws, and Gavion Taylor buried a 3-pointer to tie the score.
The game was seemingly tied 45-45 for hours, as the two teams headed down the stretch knotted up. Finally, with under a minute to play, Taylor hit the shot of the night, working his way open and making a clutch 3-pointer for a 48-45 Warriors lead.
The Eagles called timeout to set something up, but were unable to get the equalizer. Jackson Dobson went to the free throw line for the Warriors after a desperation foul by the Eagles, and made one attempt, giving the Warriors their four-point edge that held up through the final buzzer.
Reels led the way for the Eagles with 18 points and eight rebounds, including four 3-pointers, while Blackwell added nine points and four boards. Elijah Burnette added eight rebounds.
The disappointing setback to the Warriors dropped Eastern’s overall record to 10-13, and the team’s mark in conference action slipped to 4-9. The Eagles close out the regular season Friday night with a road game at McMichael, and will then gear up for next week’s Mid-State Conference tournament. The Eagles will hit the road in the opening round to face an as-yet undetermined opponent.