BOONVILLE - Starmount enters postseason play as the hottest team in the Mountain Valley Conference.
The Rams capped an impressive run through the back-half of their schedule Friday night with a crucial 58-55 victory over third place North Wilkes on Senior Night. The win was the squads’ fourth-straight and fifth in their last seven contests.
“Huge win; loved every minute of it,” head coach Rocky Horton said. “These guys have been going at each other and they’ve come such a long way. I can’t really express how proud I am of them. To see where these guys have come has just been awesome.
“North Wilkes is a hard-nosed team but our guys kept preserving and kept playing. I honestly think we won this game at practice Wednesday and Thursday because our guys have been going at each other. It’s been fun to watch,” he added.
In a playoff-like atmosphere, the teams traded buckets in the first quarter with North grabbing an 18-16 advantage at the end of one.
Starmount made a charge to open the second, pulling ahead at 19-18 and 26-24. But the Vikings scored seven of the final nine points to take a 31-28 edge into the locker room.
North used an 11-2 run over the first four minutes to grab its largest lead of the night at 42-30 and threatened to run away with the game. But the Rams battled back to cut the deficit down to 45-37 heading to the decisive fourth quarter.
Starmount continued its charge in the final frame and started to chip away at the lead. Three-straight points by James Ashley trimmed the deficit to one at 53-52 midway through the period.
Gunner Cass drilled a deep trey at the top of the key to complete the comeback, giving the Rams a 55-53 edge with 3:30 left.
After North tied things up at 55-all, Starmount put the finishing touches on the comeback win down the stretch. Senior Nathan Williams hit a contested layup to put the Rams up for good at 57-55.
Cass hit a final free throw, capping a 21-10 fourth quarter to give Starmount the thrilling 58-55 victory.
“Zach Worley and Nathan Williams are our seniors and our captains and our fire. We talked about what this means to them. This could be the last time on their home court,” Horton explained. “They were talking among themselves saying ‘it’s time to go.’ We picked up the defensive intensity [in the fourth] and had some shots go our way. They’re energy and attitude - they all stepped up tonight.”
Cass poured in a game-high 14 points, while Luke Shore added a dozen points and nine rebounds. Ashley and Zach Worley recorded nine points apiece as eight Rams scored on the night.
With the win, Starmount secured the No. 5 seed in Monday’s conference tournament with a 7-9 mark in league play. The Rams will ride the momentum of the four-game win streak and the strong second half of the season into the postseason.
“We’re young and it took time for everyone to mesh together. But there is no better time to start peaking than the end,” Horton said. “This is the time we need to keep improving because we’ve played hard all year. And here we are. Taking four wins into the tournament is great for the kids.
“We’re ready. They want to play. Our guys are fearless and we’ve been playing like that lately,” he added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.