The noise reaching deafening levels, the high-pitched screams and cheers made it hard to hear the referees blow their whistles.
But even down the stretch of the tightly-contested region contest, none of that seemed to matter to the Central Chargers late Friday night. As long as their baskets were counted and their fans had something to go home happy about, there was no reason to be upset.
In front of a capacity home crowd, they definitely found plenty to be excited about, as they walked off the court with smiles on their faces following a clutch 67-59 win over city-rival Northeast.
“That was real loud,” Central head coach Andre Taylor said of the cheers. “I know (Northeast’s) fans really get behind them well, but I knew that as soon as they would start getting loud that our fans would come with it, too.”
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The gymnasium was so packed full of screaming fans that during halftime of the girls game, the cheerleaders were forced to stand at the top of the arena, so that spectators seated near the floor could see the action.
With the game entering its final four minutes, fans on both sides jumped to their feet along with every shot the teams attempted, sending the arena into a raucous frenzy.
“It has truly become a great rivalry,” Northeast head coach Dartez Talbott said. “I don’t know what it is, but the last four or five years, every game our schools have played has seemed to come down to the end like this.”
The Raiders were the first to capitalize on the electricity of the crowd late in the game, as they began scoring from all over the court. Coming away with 26 points in the fourth quarter, the Raiders had a chance to turn what once appeared to be a fanciful come-from-behind victory, a reality.
Trailing the Chargers by as much as 23 entering the quarter, that type of comeback seemed far from ever occurring.
“I don’t know what it is, but probably our last five or six games, we haven’t been (playing consistent) for the whole game,” Talbott said. “I have no idea why we are that way, but we need to learn how to play like that (fourth quarter) for the whole game.”
With Northeast pulling the deficit to within six, the Chargers had to find a way to extend their shrinking lead. Fouled several times in the final quarter, Central sent four different players to the foul line. After missing their first three free throws in the quarter, they needed someone to come through.
That’s when senior guard Jimmy Thomas stepped up with less than three minutes to play, and knocked down a set of free throws to begin to extend Central’s lead, and put the contest out of grasp for good for Northeast.
“It gave us a little motivation, and it turned out that was all we really needed,” Thomas said.
In all, 13 of the 17 points Central scored in the fourth quarter came from the free-throw line.
The 3-point arc was kind to the Chargers as well Friday, as hot-handed junior guard Matthew Brabham buried five 3s during the first half to give Central a large early lead.
His first two 3-pointers were the game’s first six points, and sparked a quick 13-0 run that lasted for nearly six minutes. Finishing the night 5-for-8 from behind the arc, Brabham gave the Chargers a much-needed spark.
“When he’s like that, I don’t bother him,” Taylor said. “He knows when he’s not doing so well and needs to pull back. But when he’s feeling it, and he’s in a rhythm, we don’t do anything to him.
In the girls’ game, the Raiderettes extended their eight-game winning streak by blowing past Central to a 53-29 region victory. In each of their last 10 meetings with Central, the Raiderettes have come away with wins.
Dominating the Lady Chargers on both ends of the court, Northeast (12-6, 9-0 GHSA Region 4-AA) pulled away early in the contest. Bolstered by a blinding first half performance that included a 20-4 run entering halftime, the Raiderettes never lost their sizeable lead.
Senior Northeast guard Erica Travet reigned as the Raiderettes’ top player Friday, as she came away with 23 points and 10 of Northeast’s 18 steals.