RONDA — With a pair of wins under its belt to open the 2019-20 season, the Avery Vikings looked to keep its unbeaten streak alive when it made the two-hour trip east on Tuesday, Nov. 26, to take on the East Wilkes Cardinals.

For East, it was a season-opening contest, but the home team showed little in the way of nerves as it stood strong against the Vikings. The two clubs battled toe-to-toe with one another for much of the contest, but an 8-1 scoring spurt over the game’s final three minutes proved too great to overcome as the Cardinals held serve at home with a 59-55 win.

“It was close most of the game. We pulled ahead in the beginning of the fourth quarter but weren’t able to keep the lead,” Avery varsity boys basketball head coach Cody Frady said. “East is a lot better than they were last year. They’ve got a good senior class and a few freshmen who have helped them at point guard and in the post. We didn’t play very well. We turned the ball over a lot more than we did in the first two games. I think when you have a young team like ours, you’re going to have some inconsistency like that.”

Avery shot only 33 percent from the field in the game, including 6-of-17 from three-point range. East found its greatest success in the matchup from inside the paint, outscoring the Big Red by a 34-18 margin. Avery committed 24 turnovers in the contest, while forcing East into 17 turnovers of its own.

Troy Hoilman led Avery with 11 points and nine rebounds, while Marcus Milliron was the only other Viking in double figures with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Silas Barinowski added eight points and seven rebounds. East’s Trey Lambert was one of four players to score eight points apiece in the game.

Avery seized an early lead in the matchup, but nine straight points from the Cardinals helped East to take a 14-6 lead after one period. In the second quarter, the teams played to a fairly even pace, with Avery making a run to tie the contest on a Milliron three-pointer and led moments later, but East retook the lead by a narrow margin at the intermission.

The teams battled back and forth in the third quarter, as neither team could put together a hot shooting streak. Late in the final stanza Hoilman put the Vikings up by three with a basket to give the visitors a 54-51 lead. East, a team that won just three games a season ago, showed grit and moxie, however, scoring four straight points to take the lead at 55-54. Avery knotted the game with a free throw, but East answered with a basket to lead by a pair at 57-55 with a half-minute to play in the game.

With possession and the opportunity to tie or take the lead, Avery was unable to score the tying basket when East blocked a layup attempt on a physical play with no call by the officials. East added a pair of points to close the contest to hand the Big Red its first setback of the 2019-20 campaign.

“We played hard. I don’t think you can ever fault our effort. When all our guys are playing hard, we’re going to be successful more often than not,” Frady added. “We hadn’t played well the entire game. We stopped making shots, but we did feel like the game got really physical near the end of the contest.”

Despite the defeat, Frady noted that the team continues to improve and are playing more like a cohesive unit in spite of the hiccups that recent scheduling has offered.

“I think we’re ahead of schedule. The guys have been working hard and they’ve bought in,” Frady explained. “We need some consistency with practice in terms of schedule, getting guys in from football, then we had the holiday break, then the additional snow day. We need to have some consistency in order to be able to know what we’re doing, but from a role-definition standpoint and a chemistry standpoint, we’re really, really coming together.”

The familiarity with Frady’s system is paying dividends with the Vikings through three games on both ends of the floor as the team matures together.

“After having most of these guys for an entire offseason, they understand the terminology and some of the defensive principles that I believe in,” Frady added. “It is starting to look like the way I want it to look, and I’m excited about that and the players are, too. We’ve having a lot of fun playing right now.”

In junior varsity boys action, East earned a one-possession win over Avery. The Vikings’ JV club is comprised of all freshmen, with just one sophomore on the roster.

“They’re young as we are with the varsity, but they’re coming together and I see them being a really good squad one day,” Frady said.

Avery will look to get back onto the winning track with a game early in the week at Ashe County, followed by a home game this Thursday, Dec. 5, against Watauga, a game that was rescheduled to Viking Gym due to the Pioneers football team’s continuing run into the state football playoffs.

Avery’s scheduled home game with North Wilkes for Friday, Dec. 6, was moved to Monday, Dec. 9, in Newland.

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