Before the Fife Trojans (6-3 league, 9-5 overall) took to the floor against the Franklin Pierce Cardinals (5-3 league, 6-8 overall), it was no secret that losing would cripple their chances at claiming league title again, which will go to the kings of the SPSL 2A, Clover Park (8-0 league 10-1 overall). In the last meeting against the Cardinals on their home court, the Trojans came up short 66-52, but this time, the Trojans entered the match with momentum after outlasting a physical Eatonville (4-4 league, 9-5 overall) 43-34 on Jan. 18. With home court advantage and the support of cheering fans packing the stands, right from the tip-off, Fife dominated every aspect of the game, dispatching the Cardinals 69-57.
“We want to stop their transition game better tonight,” said Coach Schelbert prior to the game in prophetic fashion. “We also want to limit their offensive rebounds. Even though they have one of their main shooters out tonight, they still have two other great ball handlers and shooters. Defensively, we want to stop their ability to stretch the floor.”
Trojans senior shooting guard Kevin McCrossin (5-of-6 3-points field goals, 2-of-2 free throws 2-of-2 field goalS) led all scorers with 20 points and was one of 3 Trojans to ring up double figures. Among the other top contributors were junior forward Bryce Miller with 16 points 12 rebounds, and senior forward Jimmy Branch, adding 10 to the board.
Within the first 2 minutes of first period, Trojan Jimmy Branch brought down the house after receiving an assist from senior guard Brad Finlayson (6 points), which led to Branch attacking the basket and dunking as shocked Cardinals looked on.
The Trojans wasted no time getting to work, running out to a 15-6 run lead in the first period of play.
Franklin Pierce had no intention of being steamrolled by the Trojan horse. The Cardinals tried to stretch out the Trojans defense, allowing the inside game to develop. When the Trojans wouldn’t budge, the Cardinals let loose from the ark, led by senior Anthony Bowden (9 points) and Tre Benton (8 points), to finish the period going 3-of-5 and closing the gap against the surging Trojans.
With 2 seconds left in the first period, though, McCrossin sunk his second 3-pointer of the game, and the Trojans outscored the Cardinals 22-14 in the first period.
In the second period, the Cardinals, trailing 25-19, would implement full-court pressure, causing the Trojans to cough up the ball 3 times. The Cardinals responded with a 5-2 run, led by perimeter shooting by Bowden and Cardinals leading scorer senior guard Jamar Murray, who ended the night with 21 points. With the score 25-24, the Trojans quickly responded with 2 3-pointers from the McCrossin and a steal from Finlayson with 3 seconds left in the period, resulting in buzzer beating and giving the Trojans a 41-31 lead going into halftime. The Trojans outscored the Cardinals 19-17 in the second period.
In the second half, the Trojans came out and continued the push the ball, making good use of the hot hand of McCrossin. With 4:46 left in final period and the score 61-52, the Cardinals made their move and managed a 5-0 run. The Trojans responded with utilizing the clock and going inside to Miller.
The Trojans outscored the Cardinals in the third period and were finally outscored in the final period, 17-14, but their free throws and solid clock management in the second half ultimately gave the Trojans the important check in the W column.
A justifiably proud Coach Schelbert gave his thoughts after the vital SPSL 2A victory over the Cardinals . “Our kids played really hard tonight, getting off to a quick start. The Cardinals played well, and every time we made a run, they were there to respond. I am proud of my guys for hanging in there and handling their run. McCrossin was on, and we had a lot of help from Miller and Finlayson.”
Senior Jack Murrey (7 points) also talked about the importance the big win. “This game is huge for us. We really needed this win. From here on out, we need to win everything to be a contender for that league spot. McCrossin came out hot, and we just fed him the ball.”
Leading score McCrossin knew from the get-go it was his night. “In warm-ups, I was just feeling it. The guys just fed me the ball early. Once you get hot and hit a couple, more just start falling. When we have a big home crowd, it always inspires us to come out and play harder. I just loved the energy, and we all feed off it. Our backers need to keep coming out to games.”
With their victory over the Cardinals, the Trojans are positioned in a 3-way tie for second place with the Cardinals and the White River Hornets. The Trojans will take to the road for 3 away games, starting with the Washington Patriots (1-7, 3-10) on Jan. 25. In their last contest, the Trojans downed the Patriots easily at 62-28.