OCEAN — It appeared as if the Croatan boys basketball team might put a scare into Pender on Friday after a first quarter that saw the squad trail by just four points.
The next three quarters proved different.
The Patriots outscored the home team 62-21 over the next 24 minutes to run away with a 75-30 mercy-rule triumph to capture their seventh win in a row.
“That’s a very good basketball team, and we made them look a whole lot better,” Croatan coach Jeff Hawkins said. “They don’t need any help and we gave them a lot of help.”
To be fair to the Cougars, who dropped to 6-7 overall and 3-3 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference, few teams have put a fright into Pender this season. The Patriots (10-4 overall, 7-0 league) have proven to be one of the best teams in the eastern part of the state, ranking sixth in the 1A division by MaxPreps.
Their four losses have come to teams that are a combined 53-14, including Laney (10-5), which ranks 20th in 4A, Washington County (11-0), first in 1A, Trinity Christian (17-1), first in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A division and Freedom Christian (15-8), third in the NCISAA 2A division.
“They beat Richlands by 59, somebody else by 50. They do this,” Hawkins said. “There is just so much pure athleticism, and you can’t duplicate that in practice. We tried, we had six JV players pressing us in practice, but that doesn’t duplicate what they can do.”
Pender has won each of its last seven games by double digits and took those seven in a row by an average of 32.4 points.
After the tight first quarter, the visitors used their length and speed to push their pressure defense into another gear and kept Croatan off the scoreboard for nearly five minutes in the second quarter during a 16-0 run to make it a 29-9 game.
“I thought the kids played well and were competing,” Hawkins said. “And then it snowballed, and that team feeds off that. They feed off turnovers and easy baskets. And once it starts, it’s hard to stop. I called all my timeouts, mixed up defenses, tried to slow it down, tried everything you can.”
Five Patriots scored at least five points during a second quarter that saw the visitors outscore Croatan 29-7 and take a 42-16 lead at halftime. Jaxon Teachey and Jakwon Moore each had seven, Jajuan Carr six and Josef Fullwood five. Teachey and Carr, who has been offered to sign with East Carolina, led the way with 17 points apiece, followed by Caleb Bishop with 10.
The score hit the 40-point, mercy-rule running clock at the 3:16 mark of the third quarter at 56-16.
Aaron Keel and Ryan Bellamy led the Cougars with six points apiece, followed by Hayden Crow and Jonathan Ruffin each with four. Daquan Dillahunt and Dustin Hayden chipped in with three points apiece, followed by John Ryan Rodriguez and Andrew Mendolia each with two.
Despite his team’s lopsided loss – its fourth defeat in its last five games – Hawkins was in fairly good spirits after the game, thanks to the makeup of his team.
“They’re good kids,” he said. “If I’m going to spend three months of my life coaching kids, they’re the ones I want to do it with, because they’re good kids. They try hard, but sometimes things don’t go your way, and that’s life.”
Croatan will travel Tuesday to East Carteret and then on Friday host Lejeune. The Mariners are 9-3 overall and 5-1 in the Coastal 8, while the Devil Pups are 7-7 overall and 3-4 in league play.
Here are results of the game:
Pender...………13 29 16 17-75
Croatan............ 9 7 4 10-30
PENDER (75) – Carr 17, Teachey 17, Bishop 10, Moore 9, Fullwood 9, Armstrong 6, A. Hansley 4, Smith 3.
CROATAN (30) – Keel 6, Bellamy 6, Crow 4, Ruffin 4, Dillahunt 3, Hayden 3, Rodriguez 2, Mendolia 2.