Centennial overcame an early 12-point hole to clinch the, 61-57, win over Long Reach in the 3A East quarterfinal Tuesday.
“Credit to coach and the job he has done,” said Eagles coach Chad Hollwedel. “The work that he has put in and the job that they have done, they came out ready to go. We just beat a really good team.”
The Lightning (9-15) came out with a hot start, as they quickly earned a 17-4 lead through the first six minutes. They limited the Centennial (17-7) to just two made shots from the field in the period en route to the 19-7 advantage by quarter’s end.
“I told the boys we are not going to beat them by 20 or 30 points. They are going to be a team that is going to stick in it,” said Long Reach coach Andrew Lazzor. “We just hit shots early on. Between the flow of the game there are going to be runs and we made ours early it so happened, as opposed to making that run late as we’ve done.”
The Eagles slowly clawed their way back in the following eight minutes, however, thanks to a crucial 7-2 run to end the half.
Elijah White was the catalyst. He started off the period strong, ripping down an offensive board and getting the and-1 on the made put-back.
He then drained a three to begin Centennial’s late surge with 2:05 left in the half. Andrew Hohmann extended the run before White came up with a deflection at half court with seconds ticking down. Kaleb Addisu picked up the loose ball and dished it off to Corey Eudell in transition to cut the deficit, 29-21, with 2.3 seconds to spare before the break.
“The second quarter energy defensively was completely different,” Hollwedel said. “We went off that defensive energy in the second quarter, so the message [at halftime] was just coming out in the third and set the tone defensively first and it got us going in transition, got us making our jump shots a little bit, which early we settled for.”
White settled in from range in the third quarter. He hit his first three with 6:23 left in the period and then knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the quarter, which cut the deficit to four.
“I told my team if we can get within 10 points, we can get this and we did it,” White said. “Coach told us to turn it up on defense. They didn’t really handle the pressure well toward the end. I think that was due to fatigue, but we started turning them over and got our offense running. We got a lot of fast break points and then just spreading them out. They wanted to play that zone, so spreading them out and getting our shots going. It just happened that I had the hot hand today, so I kept shooting until I went cold and then we kept trying to move the ball around.”
The Eagles trailed by four entering the fourth quarter, but the deficit was quickly erased.
Haden Ford connected on both free throw attempts at the start of the period, which escalated to a Centennial 8-0 run, resulting in the Eagles first lead of the game.
Addisu tied the sore at 42 with a finish in the paint, then quickly grabbed the advantage for his team after laying in a transition basket 10 seconds later.
“As soon as I realized we had the intensity and we had the energy — this is our team at full strength,” White said. “We haven’t lost one game full strength and that showed tonight. We have that energy and that depth to come off the bench and get an extra push. It starts in practice, really. We push each other all the way to the max and make sure our stamina is up so we can run in games like this.”
Tre'von Morgan hit Long Reach’s first basket of the quarter with 5:47 to play. Emmanuel Ekop then followed with a made free throw, which tied the game back up at 46-all.
The Lightning and Eagles exchanged buckets once more to keep the stalemate, but with 3:26 remaining Hohmann knocked down a huge 3-pointer to put his team up for good.
Long Reach got within a basket four times in the final two minutes, but could not get the go-ahead shot to fall.
“We tried, we worked and a couple shots — that one three in the last minute and a half or so doesn’t go down for them it is a completely different story,” Lazzor said. "It is a game of runs and we fought... They just made a couple extra plays at the end of it and that put them on top, as opposed to if we won a few more possessions over the course of the game then it could have been completely different story.”
The Eagles were clutch from the free throw line in the final minutes of the game, making 6 of 10 to ice the victory.
“To be honest it was a little bit of a relief,” White said of hearing the final buzzer. “We got the lead for a little bit into the fourth quarter and we had to hold it. And that is one of the toughest things in basketball, holding a lead in a playoff game where a team is constantly going at you, going at you. But we played tough. We held it off, hit a couple free throws and played good defense. We stuck it out.”
Hohmann led the Eagles with a season-high 18 points, followed by White (15), Addisu (12) and Eudell (nine).
“We’ve had some times this year where we got down early, so we know we had the ability to come back,” Hollwedel said. “Was I confident? Yeah, I have faith in them but just a credit to Long Reach they came out and were just ready to go, completely got us off the tip.”
Hollwedel knew it was going to be a battle against the Lightning, and credited the home court advantage as part of the victory. With No. 5 Wilde Lake upsetting top-seeded River Hill Tuesday, the Eagles are back on their home floor in the 3A East semifinal Thursday.
“Actually the seed meant a lot,” Hollwedel said as he pointed to the stands. “I think having the home court advantage is huge for us. Our fans are awesome. Watching the kids on the bench pick each other up is awesome. I was proud of them. I am happy for them.”
Morgan led all scorers with 27 points for the Lightning, followed by Chad Brown (11) and Ekop (10).
“To their credit they are a good team, well-coached team. Only so much you can hope for and in this case they came up with the last couple plays there in the end and we were at the short end of it,” Lazzor said. “Every team that I’ve ever coached in my life I’ve wanted one thing and that is for them to leave everything they have on the court and these guys did that tonight. Just a couple shots here and there, we had an opportunity and they just made a couple more plays at the end than we did.”
The Lightning will build off a solid postseason, which saw them upset No. 2 Reservoir in the first round. They return their entire roster except for Ekop.
“I told them I was proud of them,” Lazzor added. “The progress we have made with a new coach. New system, new expectations … the progress they’ve made from the point that they are at now, and I’ve told them it’s not just in games it’s in practices the last two weeks. Guys like Tre’von, Chad and Emmanuel, our only senior, have led us in practice and forced us to be accountable for our actions in practice. That is when a team arrives, when the players take responsibilities for themselves and that is what we started doing. That wasn’t there in the beginning of the year, but they’ve bought in to their credit and earned my respect ten-fold over these last few weeks based on their efforts and you can see it on the court. They are giving every single thing they’ve got.”
Centennial 61, Long Reach 57
C (17-7): Hohmann 18, White 15, Addisu 12, Eudell 9, Ford 5, Williams 1, Taylor 1.
LR (9-15): Morgan 27, Chad Brown 11, Ekop 10, Young 5, Shupe 3.
Half: 29-21, Long Reach.