Mount Hebron kept alive its county title hopes by escaping host Centennial yesterday afternoon with a 69-64 victory, avenging an earlier loss this season to the Eagles (11-8, 6-6).
The 14th-ranked Vikings (15-4, 7-4) put coach Scott Robinson through a stomach-turning, deja vu experi-ence. Centennial mounted a dramatic fourth-quarter rally to pull within a point by forcing Mount Hebron to earn its points at the free-throw line (12-for-19).
"The last time we played Centennial, we were up by seven with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game, then made just three of 14 free throws to lose, 55-48," Robinson said. "It almost happened again today."
Junior shooting guard Kurtis Jestes surpassed his season-scoring average (22.7) by notching 26 to lead Mount Hebron. Centennial junior Seann Jones totaled 22 points, 15 in the second half.
"It was players like senior Steve Dohler who got things done for us today," Robinson said of his top reserve (13 points, five rebounds). "Steve doesn't get a lot of publicity because he does the little things that don't show up in box scores like lead our
team in assists, but his seven second-quarter points were important in this win."
Posting a 55-42 lead after three quarters, Mount Hebron was held to just one fourth-quarter field goal on 10 attempts. Before the final quarter, Centennial coach Jim Hill asked his players to turn up the intensity a notch after the Eagles had been outscored 42-24 in the previous 16 minutes.
"We showed a lot of heart and we had our best defensive team of the season out there on the court today, but foul trouble in the second and third quarters without a deep bench was our undoing," Hill said.
As Mount Heborn converted five of eight free throws, Centennial's Jones scored 10 points in under two minutes to cut the Vikings' 13-point advantage to 62-54.
"He's been our nemesis for the last two years," said Robinson. "We tried throwing a bunch of different defensive looks at them to open the game, but nothing in the end could stop him."
Centennial cut the Mount Hebron margin to 62-61 on a Will Latta jumper with 2:10 remaining in the game. Seconds later, Mount Hebron 6-foot-8 sophomore center Patrick Ngongba fouled out.
"Then came the big play when Jestes was fouled on a three-point attempt," Robinson said. "He came into today's game having made 35 of his last 38 free throws."
Jestes made two of his three free throws to push Mount Hebron ahead 64-61 with 1:21 left.
Behind Centennial junior center Kevin O'Connor's sharp shooting, Centennial showed no signs of playing its third game in four days, as the Eagles jumped to a 15-5 lead with 3:22 left in the opening quarter.
O'Connor, who blitzed the Vikings' zone defense in the first quarter with 10 points, made all four of his field-goal attempts, including two three-pointers, as the Eagles grabbed an 18-13 advantage after one quarter.
The Vikings responded with a 20-point outburst in the second quarter.
Ngongba and Jestes added six points each in the second quarter as the Vikings led at halftime, 33-29.