“Wow,” said NMHS coach David Cottrell when asked to sum up the emotions of the victory. “There is so much you can talk about. It was just a gutsy win.”
In the battle between the two Jaguars, the victor displayed resiliency and determination that helped them win their twelfth straight game. In just their second year of existence, the team is one of eight teams in the 5A classification who are still playing basketball. The walls of the newly built New Manchester gym may be empty now, but in a year, it will have a region championship banner, and at the very least, an elite eight banner hanging.
The game lacked scoring for most of the first quarter. Both teams struggled to hit their jump shots, and both defenses forced several turnovers. Although the quarter didn't provide much offensive entertainment, New Manchester had multiple highlight blocks on fast breaks. This helped the confidence on the offensive side, as they eventually began to execute their plays and establish a lead, with a team contribution. As the quarter ended, New Manchester led 11-6.
The second quarter reflected the initial one, with defense a priority for both sides. It was also one of those nights where shots simply didn’t fall. New Manchester could only muster eight points in the quarter, but were in lockdown mode on the other side, picking pockets and swatting shots. The half came to a close with New Manchester maintaining their five point lead, up 19-14.
The energy picked up tremendously in the second half. Both teams were grasping the importance of their play down the stretch, and that the game could come down to one possession. Although New Manchester continued their tough defensive play, they only put up one field goal in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. Stephenson took advantage and took their first lead of the ball game in the final minute of the quarter, 22-21. New Manchester responded their next possession after a Keymont Jenkins layup dropped through, while also being fouled on the play. Stephenson added one more field goal before the quarter ended to lead 24-23.
The temperature went up even higher in the fourth. New Manchester and Stephenson were both locked in and the lead changed often. With just under two minutes to go, New Manchester guard Ryan Edwards hit a huge three pointer with a defender right in his face to give the home team Jaguars a 33-30 lead. Stephenson appeared to be on their last lifeline, but on a night when shots were halfway down then out, guard Tre Gresham pushed this aside and drained a three pointer of his own to tie the game at 33 a piece with 25 seconds left. New Manchester turned the ball over the next possession, but displayed excellent defending on the other side as the clock hit zero with the game still tied.
As the game started to become unpredictable and wild, both teams struggled in their attempts to pull away from one another. However, New Manchester guard Nashon Dortch turned unpredictable into a sure thing, driving hard to the basket and hitting a layup with defenders all over him while also picking up the foul. Following the converted foul shot, New Manchester saw themselves 80 seconds away from a victory, leading 39-36. Stephenson could not convert on the other end and Joe Boyer hit some vital and game clinching free throw shots in the final seconds to send the team to the round of eight. Edwards led the Jags in scoring with 11.
The significance of the win was shown through the emotions of the New Manchester players and coaches as they celebrated the victory. The team continues their stellar run on Wednesday, traveling to Gainesville in a battle of region No. 1 seeds.