NEWLAND — Entering its home finale on Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Avery Vikings honored its five senior players, as Tyree Jackson, Evan Krug, Sam McCollum, Griffin Rogers and Ryder Seiz were honored with loved ones in a pregame ceremony.
Once the festivities concluded and the game began, however, the only celebration taking place occurred on the bench of the visitors from Mountain Heritage, who opened a double-digit first-quarter lead and never looked back in routing the Big Red by a 93-46 final score on Tommy Burleson Court.
Assistant coach Reggie Oakes, who was again filling in for head coach Cody Frady as he recovers from recent surgery, found positives in the matchup despite the final score.
“I thought our guys played hard. We did some good things, but we were just outmanned by a good group in Mountain Heritage,” Oakes said after the game. “I have great respect for Hank (MHHS head coach Newson) and his staff, as well as all the coaches in our league. I love our kids, and we just have to keep working on fine-tuning some things before the conference tournament, as well as hopefully get healthy.”
Avery hung tough with the Cougars in the early going, as McCollum knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and Krug scored a pair of baskets. Meanwhile, Mountain Heritage countered with Callin Randolph. The junior shoots lights out inside Avery’s gym, and continued his strong play with three 3-pointers in the quarter. The Cougars laced the nets for six total 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, and made eight total shots from behind the arc in the game. Brandon Aumiller scored six in the quarter, while 6-foot, 8-inch Justus Shelton was manning the glass. He scored three times in the quarter as MHHS led 30-16 after one quarter.
Avery found the going tough against the tenacious Cougars ‘D’ in the second quarter. Despite making three 3-pointers in the period, the Big Red added just four more points to its team total before halftime.
Nathaniel Ledford came off the Heritage bench to score seven points in the quarter as Avery found itself trailing 50-29 at halftime.
As the third quarter began, AHS could not find an answer to consistently slow down the Mountain Heritage offensive onslaught. The Cougars outscored Avery 25-9 for the quarter, as Shelton scored 13 of his game-high 22 points in the stanza to build a 75-38 lead entering the final quarter.
Less than a minute into the fourth period, the Cougars built a 40-point advantage, initiating the NCHSAA running clock mercy rule. Avery scored eight points in the final stanza, all of which by Seiz, as the Cougars raced to the win.
Seiz led Avery with 12 points, with 10 points from Jackson and nine points from McCollum. Krug was held by the Cougars defense to only seven points. Five separate Mountain Heritage players tallied double figures, including Ledford (18), Aumiller (14), Randolph (12) and Levi Higgins (11).
Though the ending wasn’t what the Big Red hoped for on Senior Night, Oakes and the entire coaching staff expressed its deep appreciation for the senior class of players who have contributed to the Avery program.
“Our seniors have played really hard and showed great heart and leadership throughout the season against high-quality opponents that play on such a high level on both ends of the floor. I can’t say enough about this group of seniors. They’ll be missed tremendously,” Oakes said. “I hope we are able to find a way to make another deep playoff run with this group.”
Avery’s postseason mission begins this Friday, Feb. 15. The tournament’s fourth seed, Avery hosts fifth-seeded Owen in a quarterfinal matchup in the Western Highlands Conference Tournament at 7 p.m. in Viking Gym. The winner advances to a semifinal matchup next week at Mitchell High School to take on top-seeded Mountain Heritage.