By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville Bearcats and East Henderson Lady Eagles won openers in 2A basketball playoffs, before bowing out in round two last Thursday.
The finale closed Bearcat legacies of Ben Beeker and Kalin Ensley, but marked a bright future behind young guards Dwight Canady and Carson Redden.
East Lady Eagles, who won the 2000 3A state title, are back on the upswing with a 20-victory season under head coach John Johnston. East was 17-8 and 20-7 in his two seasons at the helm, after an earlier stint of coaching Eagle boys for many seasons.
The Lady Eagles (20-7) won their first playoff game in over a dozen years, by 62-57 over 19th-seeded Shelby (17-8). East’s 10-2 run opened up a ten-point bulge with a minute to play. Sarah Erwin scored twice in that stretch. East soared with an 10-0 run early on, led by nine (33-24) at halftime, but was down a point starting the fourth quarter.
Shooting guard Drew McMillan scored 13 of her game-best 17 points in the first half. Point guard Sontee Moore and Judy Laughter each scored 13, and Erwin added ten points.
East, seeded 14th in the West Region, then lost 61-44 on Thursday, Feb. 28 at third seed Forbush Falcons (26-3). McMillan scored 15, Moore 12 and Laughter nine points.
East was 7-3 in the Mountain Six regular season, tying usual champ Smoky, and won four more games overall than the dynastic Lady Mustangs (16-11). The teams split in the regular season, but were upset in the M6 tournament that Franklin (13-14) won over Pisgah (13-13).
The Lady Eagles won all 13 games at home, and their last 18 in a row. They decisively were Henderson County champs. They opened the season with wins over North Henderson (8-18) by 18 then 25 points, beat M6 rival HHS (2-19) by 24 then 39 points, and to open the season, and defeated West Henderson (0-25) by 25 then 33 points.
The squad’s six seniors are McMillan, Laughter, Sarah Erwin, Deanna McCrary, 5-foot-10 Liz Morgan, and Mattie Moore. Amber Pridmore is the sole junior.
East’s future is bright with current sophomores Moore, Jaelah Bradley, Emma Gilliam, Kaitlyn McCraw, and Journee McMinn having varsity experience.
Forbush won again Saturday, to reach the round of eight. Top 2A West seed Mountain Heritage booted Smoky Mountain 67-31 Saturday, and thus no more M6 schools remain in playoffs. The last team standing from the immediate Asheville area was 3A seventh seed Asheville Lady Cougars (23-7). But they lost Saturday, by five at second seed Freedom.
“East” won a boys’ playoff game Thursday, but it was another area East team in East Rutherford. The 13th seeded Cavaliers (21-5) eliminated fourth seed Hendersonville (22-3), by 77-70, then beat Walkerton by the same score on Saturday. Shelby ousted Heritage Saturday, to also reach the 2A round of eight.
That Cats-Cavs contest was the sole loss for varsity hoops boys in HHS’ Jim Pardue Gymnasium all season. HHS, at fourth, was highest seeded among WNC boys hoops squads.
In a last hurrah two nights earlier, on Feb. 26, HHS carved up Carver 79-62. HHS led by five after a period, but 29th seed Carver tied it by halftime. The Cats led by five after three at 52-47. They exploded for 27 points, to outscore the pesky visitors by 12 in the final quarter and 17 overall.
These three Bearcats surpassed 20 points — 6-3 senior forward Kalin Ensley (with 26), 6-9 senior center Ben Beeker (21), and freshman point guard Dwight Canady (21). They totaled 68 of the team’s 79 points, which is 86 percent of the offense.
Four-year superstar Beeker and Ensley then each scored 17 against ERHS, totaling 19 of their 34 points in the second half. HHS had the size edge inside, but the foes had more team speed. Beeker averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds (best in WNC) for much of this season, to go with two blocks and two steals. Ensley averaged 15 points.
Hendersonville’s backcourt propels the program forward. Swift and aggressive playmaker Canady scored 11. His driving bucket gave HHS its last lead of the game, at 29-28. He scored nine versus Carver.
“Dwight gets after it, on every play,” HHS head coach Marvin Featherstone said. He praised gutty sophomore guard Carson Redden for his fiery two-way play, as well.
Redden scored 13 points at critical times, against the Cavs. He drilled three-pointers to close the opening period, then for the first HHS lead at 27-26, and for the final points of the game. Redden scored two layups in a row — the second off of his steal — early in the final period to cut the lead to single digits.
HHS got as close as five points in the second half — lastly at 68-63, on Canady’s three-pointer with two and a half minutes to go. On the prior HHS possession, Beeker’s two-handed jam ignited the home crowd during the final rally. Earlier, Tucker Blynt made a three.
The Cats unleashed an 11-2 run to start the second half. Forward Gavin Strickland’s three-pointer was a spark. But the Cavs later responded with a 8-0 run, to lead by ten entering the final period.
Earlier, the streaky Cavs nailed three treys in a row in a 10-1 run to close the first half. They led by ten early at 14-4, were up by eight after the first period and again at halftime, and won by seven points.
Cavs’ slick 6-5 Isaiah Lathan scored 11 of his game-best 24 points in the first period, as the visitors hit ten of their first dozen shots. Burly center Christian Walker added 17 points, with ten in the first half including a pair of threes. He got to many rebounds. Antonio Buenuelos added 15 points.
The Cavs over-relied on threes such as early in the second half, instead of using clock to protect their lead as they did later on. HHS more consistently worked for higher percentage jumpers close in.
Hendersonville’s interior defense thrived with several blocks in the third. Though there were a few steals, the Cavs too often broke a fullcourt second-half press to find an open man for a layup.
Featherstone credited the visitors with foiling his varied defense, which clicked much better in beating Carver.
Carver’s 12-girl cheerleader crew kept yelling chants — loudest during the many times HHS was at the free-throw line, to try to distract the shooters. Those girls eventually quieted, as HHS pulled away in the second half. Carver kept it close for three periods with its three-point shooting, but was clearly outmatched in skill and size.
Canady scored nine points in the win over Carver. He is already very poised in running the show, and will lead the Bearcat attack for three more seasons.
Wingate-bound Ensley saved a dunk for the final three minutes. A minute before that, he drove in for his 1,000th career point. Coach Featherstone grabbed the announcer microphone after that basket, and announced the feat to the crowd just before play resumed.
The score was 63-54. The lead was about to balloon, including on jams by Ensley then Beeker. Coach Featherstone “we stepped up with big baskets, to pull away.”
Half of the dozen varsity Bearcats are seniors. They are Beeker, Ensley, Blynt, Alexander Andersen, Will Green, Ryan McCurdy, and Sawyer Moss. The sole junior is 6-3 Strickland. The three sophomores are Redden, 6-3 Alex Lemmens, and Jake Ross. Thomas Beeker is assistant coach, while Rishad Felton coaches JV.
Athletic clutch scoring, goatee-wearing Ensley smiled about the victory, and The Tribune’s nicknaming him “The Go-to GOAT-ee.”
GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time. That title typically goes to Michael Jordan in the NBA, with current star LeBron James rivaling him among some fans. Mike Trout gets the nod in MLB. Quarterback Tom Brady won his sixth Super Bowl last month, after he already was widely anointed his sport’s GOAT.
Ensley, a senior, will join 2018 HHS grad Tykel Landrum in Wingate Bulldogs football. Ensley signed his letter of intent on Tuesday. Ensley is the “most silly, charistmatic andoutgoing receiver I have ever coached,” HHS assistant coach Kirron Ward posted on Facebook. Landrum noted he is excited about the reunion with Ensley, in college.
Landrum and Ensley starred together as receivers in 2017, Landrum’s senior year and Ensley’s first HHS football season after transferring from North. In ’17, both Ensley (1,258) and Landrum (1,246) gained about 1,250 yards. Landrum caught 65 passes, Ensley 63 as they both averaged nearly 20 yards per reception. Ensley caught a whopping 19 passes for scores.
Then in ’18 Ensley reached the end zone 12 more times on catches, and six times rushing. His yardage was 1,074 receiving, 512 rushing and 336 in return yards. He made four interceptions.
Basketball Cats were unbeaten in the M6 regular season at 10-0, and won the tourney crown by blasting perennial powerhouses Smoky Mountain 89-66 then Pisgah 80-65 on Feb. 21. Franklin was second to HHS at 7-3, and Brevard was 3-7.
Coach Casey Barnes’ East Henderson boys were winless in M6 play, and 5-20 overall. Curiously, HHS Lady Cats were also winless in M6, as the two nearby local schools were nearly mirrored opposites in boys and in girls basketball marks.
Hendersonville boys averaged 77.8 points, and lit up the scoreboard for 109 in thrashing Madison by 44 points on Dec. 4.
The only HHS losses in the regular season were in the opener at Asheville (which the Cats revenged a week later), and at county rival West Henderson on Jan. 23 in a wild 86-77 overtime battle. West trailed by nine at the half, but outscored HHS by ten in the third and doubled the Cats at 18-9 in OT. The teams split, as HHS won at home 88-66 on Dec. 14.
Both teams have stars named Ben with HHS’ 6-9 Beeker and West 6-2 junior guard Bryson, who last week verbally committed to D1 Tennessee Tech. Bryson averaged over 25 points for much of the season, trailing only NB’s Ren Dyer in WNC, and averaged four steals. Bryson poured in 38 to go with six steals, eight boards and five assists in an upset of Tuscola. Ben’s father Joey Bryson, West’s all-time leading scorer, coaches the Falcons.
West (14-12) was a respectable 8-8 and sixth in the area’s premier league, the nine-school WMAC. West had its usual team size, with five Falcons 6-3 or 6-4, and two others 6-2.
The Falcons swept North Buncombe (11-5; 18-9 overall) in the regular season but lost to the Hawks in the WMAC tourney, and split with the other second-place team (Tuscola. West finished ahead of Erwin and Roberson, and right behind Reynolds and Enka in the WMAC which Asheville won at 12-4.
West, the 30th seed, fell to third seed Freedom 89-71 in round one of 3A playoffs. West won both times (by five and three points) against county and 3A WMAC rival North Henderson (2-15; 7-19).
North beat TCR 63-59 in the WMAC tourney, after splitting with TCR and Erwin. Coach Justin Parris’ Knights opened by twice beating East Eagles handedly. Luke Taylor (16 ppg.) was the First Knight in scoring, and Alex Taylor (18 ppg.) atop the Eagle perch.
East swept Polk, then won two of its last three games before Christmas.
Seniors comprise eight of 13 Falcons, six of 13 East Eagles, but merely four of 14 North Knights as local squads look to the future.