In front of a setting many players can only dream ¬ a packed gymnasium overflowing with rowdy fans ¬ the Concord Pirates showed what they are made of Monday night in the 1A, Region 3 Tournament championship game against Cleburne County rival and host West Side.
The No. 6 ranked Pirates (35-7), who already had a conference and district tournament championship under their belt, jumped out to a 15-point halftime lead en route to a 64-53 victory, capturing their second consecutive regional championship and defeating their rival for the fourth time in five meetings this season.
“To beat West Side four times in one year is tremendous,” said Concord Coach Keith Cornett. “They are a very good basketball team and they are well-coached.”
Electrifying junior point guard Jacob Roark poured in a game-high 31 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and came up with seven steals while senior forward Ryan Cornelison added 18 points – drilling four three-pointers.
“Roark and Cornelison have played tremendous in the postseason,” said Cornett. “They were just hard to handle tonight, especially in the first half.”
In the first half particularly, Concord crashed the offensive glass with the tenacity of a wounded boar. “My guards have to go to the boards hard too because rebounding is not our specialty. Roark got some big rebounds for me tonight,” Cornett said.
Concord opened up a 16-10 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter as Cornelison ripped a three-pointer from left elbow and Roark followed with a strong offensive rebound, which he turned into a pair of free throws.
West Side guard Keaton Sutterfield, who popped two three-pointers earlier in the first quarter, hit a runner in the lane, but Roark quickly answered in transition before West Side point guard Logan Bailey drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key, trimming the Eagles' deficit to three at 18-15 entering the second period.
The Pirates opened the second quarter with a 14-5 run and never looked in the rearview mirror. Roark ignited Concord with a pull up jumper from the foul line, then Roark swiped a steal, drove the baseline and dished to power forward Ethan Hebert for a layup.
After Roark sank a jump shot from right elbow, West Side center Ben Hargrove followed his own miss for a bucket. Concord guard Luke Cornett responded with a tough floater over Hargrove, but West Side guard
Bryce Hipp nailed a three-pointer out front, leaving the Pirates with a 26-20 lead.
Any momentum the Eagles gained from Hipp's three-pointer was quickly taken away when Cornelison answered with a deep three-pointer launched from right wing ¬ near West Side's bench.
Bailey split two defenders and finished with a difficult scoop shot in heavy traffic before Cornelison came up with a steal off the Pirates' suffocating full-court pressure, backed out to the three-point line and buried a trey.
Page 2 of 2 - Hipp fired back with a leaner from right baseline, but Concord maintained its edge as guard Cameron Reesor hit Cornelison cutting baseline for a layup. After Bailey and Roark traded driving baskets, Hebert came up with a steal, which led to a pair of free throws from Reesor.
With Concord leading 41-29 late in the first half, Hipp nailed a three-pointer from left wing, but Roark countered with a step-back three-pointer over two defenders at the buzzer, boosting the Pirates' lead to 15 at intermission.
Trailing 46-29 after Cornelison hit a double clutch bank shot from right side, West Side used an 11-0 run to climb back in the game as Bailey and Hargrove each scored four points, while Sutterfield ripped a three-pointer, which sparked the run.
Moments after West Side closed within five, Roark responded with a three-pointer from left wing off an assist from Hebert. Hargrove pulled down an offensive rebound and scored, but Concord closed the third period with five straight as forward Hanse Bowman buried a three-pointer from left wing then Cornett picked a steal, leading to a three-pointer from left corner by Cornelison.
With Concord leading 55-43, both teams endured a drought over the final 2:49 of the third quarter and the Pirates took the air out of the ball in the fourth period, using Roark and Cornett's quickness and ball handling skills to run out the clock.
Bailey led West Side (27-9) with 18 points, Sutterfield followed with 13, Hargrove had 12 and Hipp finished with eight. The Eagles opened 1A state tournament play in Bradley on Thursday versus Bay.
The winner advances to tonight's semifinal round versus the winner of Stephens and Omaha. Two wins would place the Eagles in the state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Pirates beat Viola 66-60 in the first round of the Class 1A State Tournament on Wednesday in Bradley.
Roark led Concord (36-7) with 32 points, Ethan Hebert added 14 and Hanse Bowman chipped in 10.
The Pirates collide with Jasper in today's state quarterfinal round at 5:30 p.m. The winner plays in the semifinals on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
“We are rolling,” said Cornett after Monday's game. “We were rolling last year too and got a rude awakening. This year we didn't have to travel four hours for our regional tournament. It's really a blessing to get to play [the regional] here at West Side. I am really excited about our chances.”