In a wild finish, York held off feisty Rock Hill 56-52 Tuesday. The Bearcats were playing for pride in a game that eerily mimicked the first meeting between the schools, also won by the Cougars.
York took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter, only to see the Bearcats reel off 15 straight points to take their first lead of the game on Mike McClure's bucket with 3:24 remaining.
With all of the momentum, playing at home on Senior Night against an opponent that had gone cold from the field, the Bearcats looked poised to pull off the upset and help salvage what has been a disappointing season.
The 15-point run was magical. The Bearcats caused seven turnovers after switching to a full-court press. At one point, the Bearcats scored six points in a little over 15 seconds, behind two quick steals from guard Dominique Cathcart.
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Even after York rebuilt a five-point lead with under a minute remaining, Rock Hill put pressure on the Cougars as Jatavius Stewart hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and Mario McCullough added a tip-in with 15 seconds remaining.
Like all talented teams do, York regained its composure and outscored the Bearcats 11-5 over the final three minutes, including four free throws by Wade Ramsey in the final 30 seconds.
The first time the two teams met, Ramsey hit two free throws with eight seconds left to give the Cougars a 52-50 win. Rock Hill (7-13, 5-8 Region 3-AAAA) had few options at the time, but the last person they wanted on the line was Ramsey, an 87 percent free throw shooter.
The Cougars (15-7, 9-4) did an excellent job of getting the ball to their best free throw shooter down the stretch.
York built its lead behind standout OB Love. Love began the game like a man possessed, with 17 points in the first half. With the score tied at nine, Love spurred a 12-2 run with a pretty drive through the lane.
Love scored York's first 11 points in the second quarter, and at one point had more points than the entire Rock Hill team.
Love finished with a game-high 23 points, but had just six after halftime. Love pulled down 11 boards, added three blocked shots and a couple of steals for good measure.
As Rock Hill shut down Love, the Bearcats had some dominating performances from McCullough inside and Cathcart running the point.
McCullough ended the game with 19 points and 12 boards, consistently giving the Cougars fits inside. Cathcart only had six points, but his leadership and defensive pressure on Love brought the Bearcats back.
The win was especially important for York, which is building momentum for the playoffs. The Cougars have one final home game, a matchup with rival Clover before playoffs start the following week.
No matter what happens on Friday, Rock Hill ends its season on the road against Northwestern. While it won't change the playoff situation, a win over the Trojans would allow the Bearcats' seniors to go out on a winning note.
"Rock Hill played with a lot of guts tonight," York coach Kendall McCarter said. "They played with passion and the run they had against us in the fourth quarter was amazing. I told our kids that this would be a game of runs, and we really responded like a veteran team once they took over the momentum.
"I can't say enough about our team this season. We have played as a team and can hopefully build some positive momentum before the playoffs."
Rock Hill 52