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HC boys rally past Bertie for 1st place

WINDSOR – At stake was seeding for tonight’s (Wednesday) 2A Northeastern Coastal Conference boys basketball semi-final, but for two squads caught up in a heated rivalry, there was something more on the line.

Hertford County’s Michale Cooper (#20) leaps to block a shot from Bertie High’s Jaqwan Baylor in Friday night’s Northeastern Coastal Conference basketball game. The Bears came from a dozen points down to finish in first-place in the league, winning the regular-season finale, 85-81. photomedoc.com / Steven Ferguson

Pride, and bragging rights.

In the end, Hertford County High School settled all that Friday night with an 85-81 win on Bertie High’s home floor, clinching the regular-season crown in the conference.

The Bears finish with a 9-1 mark in the league for the conference’s top-seed in tonight’s tournament as well as when the 2A state playoffs begin next week.

Bertie, riding the wave of a seven-game win streak – played inspired when coach Derrick Bond, who survived a devastating car crash in the pre-season, was introduced and made his first appearance back in the Falcon gymnasium since his accident to a standing ovation from the overflow crowd.

The Bears took an early 7-4 lead thanks to back-to-back corner jump shots from Daylan Askew. It was a two-point lead, 12-10, Bears, when Quinton Wright sank a foul shot on an old-fashioned three-point play. Bertie re-took the lead when Alden Cottle drained a three-pointer from beyond the arc. The game went back-and-forth for the next two minutes until Jaqwan Baylor banked in a soft jumper for a lead Bertie would carry to the end of the first quarter, where the Falcons were in front 24-21.

The Bears’ persistence kept the game from getting out of hand, and the Falcon lead was never more than five points until Bertie went on a 7-0 run with 2:14 left in the half. Cottle started the run with a triple, followed by Baylor scoring in the lane, draped in Bears defenders, and the last two points coming on a flying lay-up by Jamarri White that made it 41-29, Falcons – Bertie’s largest lead of the game. Late Bear field goals by Wright and Avery Hoggard got the deficit under double-digits, and the teams headed to the locker-room at the mid-break with the Falcons on top 43-36.

Hertford County came out with pressure defense to open the second half. Capitalizing on turnovers, they converted lay-ups and found themselves only trailing by a pair after scoring 11 of the game’s next 14 points making the score 49-47, Bertie. With the game much less physical, Bertie didn’t get a foul called on their opponent the entire third quarter. The Bears made 7-of-8 free throws during that same period and re-took the lead on a Michale Cooper put back and a pair of foul shots by Michael Savage. The game headed to the fourth quarter with the Bears in front 63-60.

Much as Hertford County had done in the second quarter, it was Bertie’s turn in the fourth: the Falcons keeping the Bears in sight on the scoreboard. While Hertford County never lost the lead early in the period, the game was tied three times. After seeing the game knotted at 69-all, the Bears took a six-point advantage, 75-69, with 3:16 left; half those points scored by Cooper. Keondre Rogers then made a driving lay-up in the lane for a six-point lead, 77-71. Baylor answered with a ‘sky-hook’ for the Falcons before Cooper got a put back with a minute left and the Bears were back up by six, 79-73. After a Xaviyon White free throw cut it to a five-point game, Cottle rebounded in a miss followed by two free throws by Baylor and it’s a one-point game, 79-78. From there, the Bears made 6-of-8 free throws to kill any chance at a comeback and Hertford County could claim the conference crown with the four-point victory, as the Falcons saw their seven-game win streak come to an end.

The Bears (15-9, 9-1, NCC) play the late game tonight around 8:30 p.m., while Bertie (14-10, 6-4) is scheduled to appear in the early game at 7.

HERTFORD COUNTY BOYS (85)

Quinton Wright-23, Michale Cooper-15, Keondre Rodgers-15, Avery Hoggard-13, Jaheim Wiggins-7, Daylan Askew-6, Michael Savage-3, Karon Nowell-3.

BERTIE BOYS (81)

Jaqwan Baylor-20, Joshua Burden-18, Alden Cottle-15, Jamarri Whote-11, Maurice Hayes-6, Darius Rascoe-4, Xaviyon White-3, Tyrese Harris-2, Marquis Overton-2.