By Matthew Yoder
With hardly a minute to digest and savor a thrilling last-second victory against Northampton, Arcadia jumped back into action last Thursday night at home against another competitive district rival in the likes of Nandua. The game had a lot to live up to following the Firebirds’ 71-68 win over the Yellow Jackets two days earlier, but it cemented its status as a classic contest when 32 minutes could not determine a victor. Ultimately, the Firebirds came out on top in overtime, winning the war of attrition against the Warriors 90-81, firmly locking into the driver’s seat moving forward in league play.
Arcadia was not hampered by a slow start against Nandua. On the contrary, the Firebirds opened the game on a 12-2 run by way of really exceptional ball rotation, with Keith Grinage and Jaden Hope the benefactors of pinpoint passes from William Scarborough. The Firebirds starting five was tremendously focused to start, as Lethon Williams and Kamron Downing also tallied points in a strong early push.
Gerald Pitt settled the Warriors initial blow with 7 straight points of his own, quieting the Firebirds into a timeout. The teams traded buckets from there. Williams battled for a loose ball, scoring for the Firebirds and Malik Battle emerged as a scoring option for the Warriors, first driving coast to coast off a defensive rebound, then adding a pair of points on a floater in the lane.
Hope, the hero of the Northampton game, confidently stepped into a corner 3 for Arcadia, and Grinage ended the quarter both playing strong defense with his second block of the quarter, and on offense with his fourth made field goal, a baseline jumper giving the Firebirds a 21-15 lead eight minutes in.
Scarborough continued to be a great distributor of the basketball for the Firebirds early in the second quarter, but his vision in finding the open shooter was often for naught, as his teammates failed to convert. Pitt continued to pace the Warriors, playing aggressive on defense and using his leaping ability to rebound and his speed to transition with ease.
Bobby Harmon jumped off the bench for the Firebirds and made an immediate impact with a very skilled move in the low post, but with all the speed on the court the game was not destined to be played in such a fashion.
Nandua drew even with Arcadia after Tremere Summerville spotted Jaquan Jones in the corner for a 3. Scarborough quickly responded with a 3 of his own for the Firebirds, and he bundled it with a score on the following possession after cutting through the lane off a good pass from Hope. Arcadia extended the lead after Scarborough assisted Williams in the paint.
Jason Blake hit a corner 3 for Nandua, and Jones blocked Williams, kickstarting a transition in which he converted two free throws, tying the game.
The quarter ended with Scarborough again finding Williams, and Jones scoring for Nandua, securing a draw headed into the half.
Arcadia opened the second half employing stifling defense, trapping the Warriors with great effectiveness. The intensity fueled Arcadia’s offense, leading to a 15-0 run to start the third quarter. Williams found Scarborough for a 3-point basket, and Downing assisted Hope on a pair of high-percentage shots.
The game took a decidedly more nip and tuck direction as well, with fouls being called with greater regularity. The manner of the finish was beginning to take shape in the closeness by which the game was officiated.
Nandua broke its drought with 3:20 to go in the third quarter with Pitt scoring a couple of quick buckets. Arcadia called a timeout just to limit the pace a bit, but Nandua kept up the urgency out of the break. Summerville drove the lane, scored, got fouled, and converted the 3-point play. The Warriors climbed to within 6.
As the teams again drew closer and the game was called tighter, the emotion on the court became a real factor. Scarborough dished to Williams for a layup and foul, and on the following possession Scarborough then drew a foul. The Warriors’ frustration with the officiating led to a technical foul, and Scarborough connected on three of the four shots.
The Warriors did their best to slow the Firebirds’ gains of the first half of the third quarter, inching back to within 7, 56-49, entering the fourth.
As fouls mounted, the fourth quarter largely became a contest of who could keep their players on the court, and which team could convert their free throws. Arcadia worked into the bonus with 6:55 left to go, and much of the work at the line for them came from Scarborough. The Warriors joined the Firebirds shortly thereafter in the bonus, and Summerville tallied an impressive amount of points in the second half playing aggressive and rewarding his team at the line.
The game seesawed, never straying from the slimmest of margins, and when Pitt converted two free throws for Nandua with under a minute to go, he helped his team climb all the way back to take a 1-point lead, 71-70.
The Firebirds again responded, and when Downing sank two clutch free throws amid a raucous audience, Arcadia surged to a 3-point advantage, with 12 seconds to go.
There was a feeling the game was iced by Downing’s free throws, but Jones had other things in mind for the Warriors, banking home a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, extending the game to overtime.
Key players began to disappear quickly in the overtime period. Pitt had already fouled out for Nandua prior to Jones’ buzzer beater and was joined shortly thereafter by Jones and Summerville, leaving the Warriors at a decided disadvantage. Arcadia’s Downing joined the list of exited players, but to their credit the Firebirds surged ahead on baskets by Williams, Hope, Scarborough, and Grinage, outscoring the Warriors 16-7 in the four-minute overtime period, and remaining unbeaten in league play.
Pitt ended the game high scorer with 26 points, and was joined in double figures by Summerville with 19 and Jones with 12. Williams led the Firebirds with 23 points, followed by Scarborough with 21, and Grinage and Hope with 16 apiece.
The battle in both teams was truly engaging, and though Nandua coach, Trelle Warner, disliked the outcome, he spoke of the game in positive terms.
“It was a hard-fought game both ways, it was a fun game to be part of,” said Warner.