By Matthew Yoder
Arcadia has become a team with a fated tendency to dig a hole for themselves, but more times than not they have also responded with great resolve. The Firebirds latest escapade into comebacks resulted in a truly classic league game to usher in the new year. A last second 3-point basket by Jaden Hope delivered a 71-68 home win Tuesday night for Arcadia against rival Northampton, keeping the Firebirds undefeated in district play.
The game was played with great speed, and even greater intensity, from the outset. The first quarter was marked by fouls, and hard ones at that. There was obviously no love lost between the teams as emotions often got the best of players on both sides. The discrepancy between fouls called in the first quarter favored Arcadia, but the Firebirds uncharacteristically failed to convert at the free-throw line. Northampton responded with strong possessions on the offensive side.
Vonte Colston played quick, but with tremendous control, for the Yellow Jackets. Colston made layups in transition, and a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter, to help steady his team. When Jeremiah Major was inserted for Northampton, he added a low post presence and scored shortly after entering. Ahmad Scarborough kept his balance after slipping on the court, dribbling baseline for a layup to conclude the quarter. Northampton jumped to an early lead, but despite Arcadia’s troubles at the line they trailed by only 5, 17-12.
Northampton began to stretch the lead early in the second quarter, and Colston remained the catalyst. Consecutive layups from Colston began to put Arcadia’s defenders on notice, and Brayden Washington began to contribute with points in bunches. When Scarborough knocked down a 3, Arcadia coach Rodney Armstrong had seen enough and gathered his team for a timeout.
Northampton kept up the pace out of the timeout with Colston, Scarborough, and Washington all continuing to play with great skill.
The Yellow Jackets’ lead swelled to 18 until Manny Williams began to reel the Firebirds back in. Williams made back-to-back layups for Arcadia and the team began to follow his lead. Even as they were failing to convert free throws out of the penalty, Arcadia remained focused and aggressive.
Kamron Downing has played the entire season with inspired intensity on both ends of the court for Arcadia and continued to impress on the evening. Late in the half, Downing dove to the court for a steal, pushing the ball one-handed to Williams who drew another Northampton foul in the fast break. Downing then stepped into a 3 for the Firebirds on their next possession. Despite a 10-point deficit at halftime, the play of Williams and Downing gave a glimpse into the Firebirds’ fight and the action that ensued in the second half.
Arcadia all but erased Northampton’s lead by the end of the third quarter, but the play to get to that point was truly electric and, at times, very tense. Downing pump-faked and scored at the top of the key to open the quarter, and strong defense by Williams on Colston forced a five-second call. Hope cut the Yellow Jackets’ lead in half with a 3 for the Firebirds, and the crowd was very much alive, and undeniably an integral part of the overall atmosphere of what made the game a classic.
Emotions spilled over after Arcadia’s Keith Grinnage was called for a hard foul on Scarborough, and retaliated further after the whistle, garnering a technical foul. While the play put Arcadia in a compromising position, it also seemed to ignite the Firebirds. The physicality and intensity grew from an already robust starting point.
As Williams fell to his back diving to save a loose ball, he fed Downing for a layup and the lead again shrunk. The action began to swing back and forth, with Scarborough and Colston scoring for Northampton, and a host of Firebirds filling the stats sheet.
When Williams fed Hope for a layup in the paint, Arcadia had climbed all the way back, grabbing the lead with 20 seconds to go in the quarter. The lead was short-lived, as Major dished to Washington to give Northampton a 1-point advantage headed into the fourth quarter.
The third quarter flowed seamlessly to the fourth. The lead changed hands a number of times as both teams played at a very high level. Williams and Colston traded layups to start the quarter, and Kylen Wharton began to make a real impact off the bench for Arcadia. Wharton made a couple of baskets, the second being a corner 3 to regain the lead for his team.
Major presented real problems for the Firebirds in the paint, with a couple of scores in tight.
A 3-point basket from Arcadia’s William Scarborough brought on deafening applause from the crowd, as people rose to their feet.
The Yellow Jackets would not relent amid the hostile crowd, with Scarborough scoring again for Northampton.
The action was purely frenetic and whistles at times only confused onlookers to the action. Fouls were called late, the teams traded steals, yet the lead always transitioned like pound for pound blows in a prize fight. Ultimately, Arcadia held possession of the ball with 20 seconds remaining. Armstrong brought his team together to draw up a play. After moving the ball back and forth, Hope was spotted in the corner and rattled the shot in with four seconds remaining. A last second heave from Scarborough missed the mark, and the court was blanketed by celebrating spectators. The game was, by all accounts, a truly spirited, entertaining brand of basketball where individual and team efforts combined with pure emotion from those in attendance.
Coach Armstrong summed up the circumstances by which his team stemmed the tide and charged to victory.
“We applied pressure defense on the ball causing turnovers and limiting their opportunities to score. We did a good job of slowing down Ahmad Scarborough,” said Armstrong.
Colston finished the game high scorer with 26 points and was aided in double figures by Scarborough with 17 and Washington with 13.
Williams led the Firebirds with 18 points, followed in double figures by Downing with 15 and Scarborough with 10. Thirteen of Hope’s 16 points came in the second half and truly jolted his team to victory.