The seventh-ranked Harrison boys basketball team has some big goals for this season, but its first order of business this week was strengthening its hold on first place in Region 4-AAAAA.
The Hoyas took a big step on Tuesday toward repeating as regular-season champions, breaking open a close game early in the third quarter and cruising to a 72-54 victory at Hillgrove.
Harrison (16-4, 10-1) has three region games remaining, including a showdown with second-place North Cobb (17-4, 8-2) at home on Feb. 10. Hillgrove (14-8, 7-4) remains in third place but fell out of contention for the regular-season title.
“Every win is a good win,” Harrison coach Robert Churchwell said. “We’re fortunate enough to be in first place, and we would like to stay there. We know that every game, someone’s coming at us.”
Harrison was playing without one of its leading scorers, Subby Adetujoye, who is out with pneumonia. The Hoyas got a balanced offense in his absence, with six players scoring between seven and 14 points. Ryan Blumenthal led the way with 14, followed by Jay Bowyer with 13, Brandon Powell with 11 and Marshall Guilmette with 10.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been preaching in practice, everyone having the belief that everyone should be playing,” Churchwell said. “That’s only going to help the team. We’ve got some young guys coming in playing some very good defense for us. We’re having trouble rebounding, but we’ll get that cleaned up. But our defense has carried us.”
Harrison took control with a 16-4 run in the first six minutes of the second half. The Hoyas led 32-26 at halftime, then scored the first six points of the second half and eventually pushed the lead to 48-30 on a 3-pointer by Justice Morgan with 2:13 to play in the third quarter.
Harrison took its biggest lead when Cullen McCrite’s basket made it 56-34 early in the fourth. Hillgrove eventually cut the lead to 12 points with 2:47 remaining, but Bowyer made two layups and four free throws in the final two minutes to help Hoyas secure the victory.
In the team’s first meeting, Hillgrove rallied late in the fourth quarter to force overtime before eventually losing 75-73. Harrison was determined not to let the lead slip away again.
“Having five seniors from last year’s team helps out quite a bit,” Churchwell said. “It’s just those seniors refusing to let anything happen like that, really coming together and pulling the team through.”
Kyle Castlin led Hillgrove with 12 points, and Dionte Jenkins added 11.