By Matthew Yoder
Arcadia punctuated their Eastern Shore district championship season with a 75-54 victory against Chincoteague on senior night. The Firebirds relied on the efforts of their veterans to distance themselves from a scrappy Ponies team in the fourth quarter.
While Arcadia has played a composed, high-tempo brand of basketball all season, Chincoteague has shown much grit down the stretch, starting with an overtime loss against the Firebirds in January.
For three quarters the Ponies kept pace with the Firebirds, largely by the fearless play of guard Trent Clark and rebounding machine Ayden Leonard. Clark drove the ball into the lane with no regard for defenders, and more often than not was rewarded for his sheer will. Leonard established his position in the paint and anticipated well in tallying offensive rebounds at a tremendous clip. Leonard and Clark accounted for a substantial amount of Chincoteague’s points. Leonard finished with 21, and Clark added a hard-earned 19.
Despite an inspired effort by Chincoteague, Arcadia’s seniors would not be denied in their regular season finale. Though they entered the court sporting yellow shirts proclaiming the exploits of an already successful season, the Firebirds still had much to play for, namely playoff seeding, as they seek to not only entertain a home game, but also secure a bye. Pride, too, played a factor, for they have been a very focused team throughout and are looking to maintain the momentum that has brought them to this point.
The Firebirds really started to separate themselves from the Ponies when they made a concerted effort to transition from 3-point shots to driving the lane with great speed and court awareness to find the open man for a layup. William Scarborough’s 3’s have been a dagger for many opponents this season and Wednesday was no exception, but he seemed to serve his team best when he drew the attention of defenders in the paint and found teammates Lethon Williams, Jaden Hope, or Kamron Downing for easy looks.
When the Firebirds executed in this manner on offense, they seemed to rattle the Ponies and were better able to focus on another one of their season-long strengths, creating havoc for the opponent on the inbound. This combination helped the Firebirds score in bunches and offset difficulties they had with defensive rebounding, ultimately stretching what was largely a close game into a runaway fourth quarter.
Williams led all scorers with 23 points and was assisted in double figures by Scarborough with 15 and Keevin Collins with 11.
The loss dropped Chincoteague to 1-8 in league play, and 6-10 overall, but the intensity with which they played in the last month of the season certainly caught their opponents off guard, and was beyond respectable. After Wednesday’s game, several Chincoteague players will walk away from the court, but they will return a solid core of athletes for the 2020-21 season.
Arcadia moves on. The playoff schedule has not yet been set, but the Firebirds will host a home game in Oak Hall and will rely on their seniors and crowd support to keep the journey alive.
The Firebirds will have over a week to tweak some inconsistencies, but coach Rodney Armstrong summed up the path they now face.
“It’s win or go home,” said Armstrong.