One month ago, the Ayersville Pilots were all alone atop the Division IV hoops polls…then came their only loss on the season. Having dropped from #1 to #3, the play of the Pilots remained potent, as they finished out the campaign with a 19-1 record and a first round bye in the Bryan D-IV Sectional tournament on March 3.
The Stryker Panthers arrived at the Bryan D-IV Sectional title game by means of upsetting the #10 seeded North Central Eagles 50-36 on February 28. Their win put them in line for a shot at Sectional gold. All they needed to do was get past Ayersville in a #11 versus #1 seed match up. The Pilots came out of the gate cold, but once they found their range, they put on a clinic to remind everyone as to who, less than a month earlier, was the #1-ranked team in the state. The hailstorm that they unleashed on the Panther Pack was nothing short of convincing, to the tune of 73-34.
From the outset, it was obvious that the Panthers were going to have problems on the boards as Ayersville held significant size advantages in four of the five positions. The height issues had to be addressed with heart and hustle, and of those qualities, Stryker had a surplus throughout the contest.
The Panthers controlled the opening tip, but could not score. Ayersville immediately began a long-range barrage of the hoop, but came up empty. Short range putbacks and jumpers were also off the mark as neither team was able to crack the scoring column in the early going.
The Panthers turned into their own worst enemies with unforced errors, but the Pilots could not capitalize on the gaffes.
With 5:24 remaining in the opening stanza, Ayersville finally broke the ice with a pair from the charity stripe. With 4:30 remaining, Chase Glock finally got the Panthers on the board with a nifty spin move in the paint, but by that time the Panthers were down 6-2. A pair of Pilot free throws were answered by a putback by Hayden Clingaman to make the score 8-4. With 3:05 left, Colton Benson rained down a three from the top of the key to close the gap to 8-7. The Pilots answered with a deuce, but with 2:25 on the clock, Clingaman went off for a three from the left corner to tie the game at 10-10. That would be the final time that the Panthers would be even with the Pilots though, as Ayersville scored the final points in the quarter to take a 14-10 lead into the second period.
Ayersville opened the second with a three, but Izayah Ferguson slashed his way through to make it a 17-12 game. The Pilots, unable to find their range in the early going, were beginning to wake up. A trey was followed by another, and after Luke Holsopple landed a pair of free throws, the Pilots responded with two more long range missiles to open up a 29-14 lead with 4:06 left in the half. Holsopple splashed a trifecta from the upper right side, but Ayersville answered with a pair of deuces to open a 33-17 advantage. Benson slashed his way in for a tough deuce to close out the half with Stryker looking up at a 33-19 disadvantage.
Ayersville would take their strafing of Stryker to a whole new level in the third period. After opening up with a three, the Pilots’ relentless attack pounded the Panthers and widened the lead. By the time that Glock connected on a pair of free throws at the 2:46 mark, the deficit had gone from 14 to 27 at 48-21. Ayersville hammered Stryker to the tune of 24-2 in the third, blowing open the game going into the fourth, 57-21.
Ayersville continued to roll in the fourth, posting a 7-0 run to start the period before Benson answered with a floater in the lane to make it 64-23 with 4:35 remaining in the contest. Logan Boetz came off the bench to can a jumper from the lower left side, but Ayersville answered with a drive of their own. Ferguson drained a three from the mid-right to make if a 66-28 score with 3:03 left. Another Pilot bucket was answered by a Ferguson free throw, but Ayersville quickly added another two to make it 70-29 with less than a minute to play. Tristin Sampson came off the bench to hit on a deuce and a three to close out the Stryker scoring on the night.
Benson had a team-high 7 points for the Panthers, who bow out of the 2016-17 campaign with a record of 8-16 / 6-6. Ferguson finished with 6 points, with the trio of Clingaman, Holsopple and Sampson each getting 5 points. Glock knocked down 4 points, and Boetz added a deuce.
Timothy Kays can be reached at email@example.com