The Nation Ford basketball team walked into the gym at Indian Land High School with strides of confidence.
It showed in the first three minutes of the Dec. 3 game. The Falcons sprinted up and down the court grabbing loose balls, offensive rebounds and jumping to a 10-2 lead. Fortunately for the home team, the game still had 29 minutes left.
The Warriors took a deep breath and then gave the Nation Ford team all they could handle, before eventually losing the emotionally charged game 60-50.
"It seemed like every time we got close it just got away from us," said Indian Land head coach Nate Smith. "Overall, I'm proud of the effort. We just have to get better."
Indian Land played without their starting point guard, Justin Gordan, and arguably their best big man, Keyadd Miller, who were both out with sprained ankles, Smith said.
"It will be a big boost when we get Keyadd and Justin back," Smith said. "But that's no excuse."
The Warriors fought back from two large Nation Ford leads. A 19-7 second quarter deficit was trimmed to 24-26 just before halftime, partly due to eight second-quarter points by senior Marcus Williams. When the lead ballooned back up to 14 in the third quarter, the Warriors expended all their emotional energy to cut it down, but didn't have enough to bring it all the way back.
"I didn't look at it as a 1A versus a 4A," Smith said. "This game was a measuring stick for us. We've come a long way but we've still got a long way to go."
Williams led the Warriors with 15 points.
Nation Ford head coach Artie Moore said the game was a good way for his team to measure their progress as well.
"This was an important game for us because they beat us two times last year. We feel like we are a better team than last year," Moore said.
Moore said his team has grown a lot since last year's inaugural season, during which the Falcons managed only two wins.
Moore said he was particularly impressed with the play of his point guard, T.J. Jones.
"I can't say enough about T.J. He has played every minute of our first two games," he said.
The freshman, Jones, finished the game with 13 points. Junior Shawndell Payton led the Falcons with 20 points and junior Sam Hirsch finished with 17. Hirsch sunk nine of the ten free throws he attempted in the decisive final quarter.
Nation Ford freshman J.J. McCollough said he thought playing in such an emotional game would be great experience that the team could use later in the season.
"We played great defense," he said. "We played with a lot of energy and great intensity."
The two teams will meet again at Nation Ford on Saturday.
Jackets top Warriors
The Warriors went on to play at Fort Mill High School last Friday and lost another close game, 57-54.
"We seemed to be in control of the game until we started turning the ball over in the fourth quarter," said Fort Mill head coach Bailey Jackson.
The Jackets had a 25-18 halftime lead before Indian Land made a run.
"Indian Land never quit. They made some threes and got really aggressive going to the basket," Jackson said.
Jackson said the Fort Mill team has played some great quarters of basketball but needs to put together four in a row and put away games.
Rashawn Dupree was the high scorer for the Jackets with 15 points.