By Pete Zamplas
Hendersonville Bearcats were joyful last Thursday night after winning their last game ever in Pardue Gymnasium before its upcoming renovations, to advance to round three where their season ended Saturday.
West Region seventh seed HHS (23-6) triumphed 65-58 over tenth-seeded East Lincoln Mustangs (24-5) in round two of 2A playoffs on Thursday, Feb. 27. The Bearcats then lost 74-55 Saturday, at second seed West Stokes. Freshman sensation HHS guard Keenan Wilkins poured in 25 points.
HHS head coach Marvin Featherstone credited the tenacious pressure defense in the home finale for “rattling” East Lincoln throughout the first half, and coming up with steal after steal. He praised the usual offensive firepower from three star guards.
Featherstone said forward Alex Lemmens stepped up for a clutch effort. “He did a heck of a job inside, for us. It was a team effort.”
Lemmens scored 14 points with 11 of those in the first half, tying Dwight Canady in pacing the Bearcats. Canady finished with 18 points, to lead HHS.
Lemmens pulled down eight rebounds. He had averaged about six points and six rebounds, playing more in absence of usual starter Gavin Strickland in recent contests. Lemmens’ seasonal best was 17 points, in a win over Pisgah Jan. 14. The output of 14 was his next best on HHS varsity.
Lemmens sure tamed Mustang defenses in late February. He registered a double-double (10, 10) in the win over Smoky Mountain Mustangs, as HHS won the Mountain Six title Feb. 19, then 14 versus East Lincoln Mustangs a week later.
The 6-foot-3 1/2 junior is a sure-handed big-play football tight end. He was rugged in containing 6-6 star East Lincoln center Justin Kuthan. Kuthan averaged 20.6 points and 8.8 rebounds in ‘19-20, and surpassed 30 points five times. He finished with 18 points and 13 points against HHS.
But Kuthan was often stymied early on by Lemmens, and often could not stop the burly Bearcat’s post offense or rebounding. Lemmens’ jumper from the top of the key gave HHS an early 8-02 lead. His basket was the last score of the first half, bulging the lead to ten points at 37-27.
Late in the game, officials whistled Kuthan for his flagrant hip check on Lemmens. But they also called Lemmens for contact, and he fouled out with nearly two minutes remaining.
Still in a sense, Lemmens for most of this game helped HHS turn the Mustangs into hapless lemmings — and head to their basketball season’s demise.
Going Out in Style
But there was much more to celebrate, on the court after the conquest. “We won our last home game here” this year and the finale before renovations, said a glowing Carson Redden.
He is elder statesmen of the Guardian of the Cats Galaxy star HHS guard trio. The court general is a junior, on a squad with merely two seniors. In theory, they should be even better next season.
The juniors on Feb. 27 played their last HHS basketball game in the gym, and younger players for the last time in the structure as it is now. Redden brought up in his post-victory interview how his senior season in 2020-21will be played off campus, while the 1976 HHS gym and its seating is modernized.
Pardue Gym will connect at its west end to the upcoming new classroom building. A new small auxiliary gym will be built just north of the main gym, instead of building a new main gym and using Pardue for practice. The old 1937 grey granite gym-fieldhouse “dungeon” will be torn down this year.
Principal Bobby Wilkins noted that HHS will play winter sports at the other three public high schools in Henderson County, on days when those schools are not also playing at home.
On Thursday, Bearcat and fans had to walk around and around to get to the gym, through the old gym’s east entrance by the football field. Parking of vehicles was allowed by the track around the football field, which had its lights on.
Reaching Third Round
HHS disposed of Newton-Conover 60-47 in a playoff opener two days earlier. The Cats played three playoff games in five days last week, bowing out on Saturday.
West Stokes (25-4) hosted third seed Shelby (24-3) on Super Tuesday. The winner on Saturday takes on the victor of top seed Forest Hills versus fifth-seeded Mountain Heritage, a longtime HHS rival.
Against West Stokes, HHS faltered early and late — trailing 22-11 after a period and getting out-scored 19-11 in the fourth. The margin was 14 at halftime, at 40-26. The Cats then out-scored their hosts 18-15 in the third period.
In contrast, Hendersonville lit up the scoreboard in the second period of its first two playoff contests. In the opener HHS out-scored N-C by ten at 18-8 in the second period, to lead by 11 (at 28-17) at the break. That was the difference, as HHS won by 13.
Then in round two, HHS led the entire way. A 23-15 Bearcat edge in the second opened up a ten-point lead at halftime.
East Lincoln shaved the margin in half to five entering the final period, and came to within a point at 53-52 with 3:42 left to play.
But Redden drove in for two. After a Mustang basket, Wilkins’ three from the left side made it 58-54. He later sank both free throws with 16 ticks left, for a clinching eight-point lead at 63-55.
Hendersonville in this final triumph of 2019-20 had balanced scoring. Canady scored 18 points, and had six rebounds and four assists. Redden scored 15 points, Lemmens 14 and Wilkins 13. They each made four steals.
Canady averaged 22 points, Wilkins 18 and Redden 11 in ’19-20. Thus, these Guardians of the Cat Galaxy are poised to return over 50 points per contest into next season.