Stevenson, Pollard power past Bennett for boys tourney title

Posted 2/21/20

PITTSBORO — Jarin Stevenson put the exclamation point on the 2020 Chatham County Middle School Tournament title here Monday evening in front of a packed house with a monstrous one-handed jam to …

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Stevenson, Pollard power past Bennett for boys tourney title

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PITTSBORO — Jarin Stevenson put the exclamation point on the 2020 Chatham County Middle School Tournament title here Monday evening in front of a packed house with a monstrous one-handed jam to close out a 59-48 victory by Margaret Pollard over a determined Bennett squad.

Stevenson, a 6’7 eighth-grader, closed with 12 of his game-high 26 points in the final stanza while adding a dominating 21 rebounds and six blocked shots in the Pollard win.

The contest was the proverbial David versus Goliath match up as Bennett, with just 71 students in the 6th-8th grades, trying to unseat annual champion Pollard, by far the biggest middle school in the county with 739 students in the 6th-8th grades.

Bennett, the No. 3 seed overall, had taken down No. 2 seed Horton last Thursday night at Pollard 59-32 in the semifinals after trouncing No. 6 seed Moncure 48-23 to open the tournament.

Pollard, meanwhile, was dominant as expected in the opening two rounds as the No. 1 seeds toppled No. 8 Bonlee 74-18 in the quarterfinals before getting past J.S. Waters 42-26 in the semifinals.

On Monday night it appeared the game would be a rout in the initial three minutes of action as Pollard bolted out to leads of 4-0 and 8-2 behind six points from Stevenson and a short jumper from Evan Dean.

A jumper from Matthew Murchison and a trey from Jacob Gilliland closed the gap to 8-5 for Bennett before Gus Ritchey sandwiched a two-handed dunk by Stevenson with a pair of buckets to 14-5 by Pollard with just :38 ticks remaining in the quarter.

Gilliland would spark a 5-0 spurt by Bennett in the waning moments of the period, however, with a three-ball from the left wing and a pair of foul shots with just :04 seconds left on the clock.

In the second, the game continued its course for the day with Pollard again gaining some breathing room only to see the gritty Bennett boys come roaring back.

Baskets by Lulz Ziemke, Stevenson and Matthew Lucas sparked a 6-2 spurt by the top seeds to open up a 20-11 cushion with 2:30 left in the half before the Panthers countered with an 8-0 run of its own highlighted by two baskets and a pair of free throws by Joaquin Gordon, and the second basket of the period by Logan Maness.

Stevenson would stop the run with a short lay in just before the buzzer sounded for intermission to give Pollard a precarious 22-19 advantage at the break.

With all the talk throughout the regular season and tournament centered around the talents of Stevenson, and deservedly so, it was a pint-sized 5’1, 95-pound 7th grader in Noah Lewis that stole the show to begin the third quarter for Pollard. The shifty point guard exploded out of the gates with a tenacious attacking of the goal which resulted in six points, including a conventional three-point play off a fast break which gave Pollard a 28-19 lead at the 4:46 mark and forced Bennett to call a timeout.

Stevenson would score down low after the timeout, however, to cap an 8-0 surge out of the half to give Pollard a 30-19 lead.

But just when you thought Bennett was done for, again, the Panthers answered, using quick ball movement to begin bombing treys, including three in a row at one point by Murchison, Gilliland and Maness to set the black and yellow clad Bennett crowd into a frenzy. And when Maness converted on a bast break with 2:10 left in the quarter, Bennett had tied the game at 30-all with an 11-0 run which forced Pollard to call a timeout.

William Little stopped the bleeding for Pollard with a rebound basket after the timeout but Murchinson responded with a trey from the left wing to give Bennett its first lead of the game at 33-32 with 1:27 left in the quarter.

Pollard answered with a 7-2 spurt down the stretch, however, ignited by another rebound basket from Little, and a basket each from guards Lewis and A’bram Paige.

Leading 39-35 at the start of the fourth, the final period would be owned by Pollard as its height advantage began to take over including a 15-4 advantage on the boards in the final six minutes of action. Bennett, meanwhile, cooled off from behind the arc, making just 3-of-9 attempts including a pair from Maness and a final one from Murchison which closed the deficit to 55-46 with :37 seconds remaining.

Earlier in the frame Pollard had used a 12-0 run to start the quarter to take a 51-35 cushion behind six points from Stevenson, four more from Ritchey and a basket by Paige.

By the time Bennett finally scored in the period on a driving hoop from Gordon at the 2:39 mark, the Panthers trailed 51-37.

Dean would can a pair of foul shots in the closing minute before Stevenson closed things out with the rim-rattling slam to set the green and gold-wearing home stand crowd into an uproar as the horn sounded to end the 59-48 Pollard victory.

Pollard saw eight players score in the contest with Ritchey adding nine, Lewis eight, Paige six, Dean and Little four, and Lucas and Ziemke two each.

The victors out-rebounded Bennett 26-9 in the second half, and 40-16 for the game as Ritchey chipped in eight more boards for Pollard.

Maness paced Bennett with 17 points offensively while Murchinson added 13, Gilliland 11 and Gordon seven.


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