Special thanks to the Asheville Citizen-Times' David Uchiyama for the following article:
ARDEN — Players on the Carolina Day bench poured out onto the floor at Christ School on Friday night. They hugged, high-fived and celebrated.
The student section followed and flooded the court.
But less than a second remained, so the students returned to their section behind the bench.
The final horn sounded and Carolina Day coach Trip Cogburn raised two fists in the air. The students stayed to start the celebration of the Wildcat’s 77-73 overtime win against their down-the-road rival.
The NCISAA rivals are scheduled to play twice a year, and in the past, have met in the playoffs. The Greenies have been the dominant team since before most of the players could count to 10. They hadn’t lost to Carolina Day in more than a decade. Wildcats coach Trip Cogburn played in the rivalry before graduating in 1998.
“It’s been a great rivalry for decades, then in the early 2000s Christ School really started to build a program,” Cogburn said. “They’ve dominated since.”
Not on Friday before a standing-room only crowd.
Senior Luke Rutherford scored a game-high 20 points including five 3-pointers. Raishaun Brown scored 17 points, Tai Giger scored 13, Peyton Truesdale had 13 and Ben Lochen scored 12 for the Wildcats (4-4, 1-0). They combined to make 10 3-pointers and overcame a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
They had a chance to win in regulation before a lane violation cancelled a free-throw attempt with 4.1 showing on the clock. They won on the court Friday.
“Give Carolina Day credit because they shot the ball extremely well in a hostile environment and earned the victory,” Christ School coach Scott Willard said. “Every season has ups and downs, and in a one-week span we have experienced both.”
“There is plenty of season left, so we will learn from this loss, own it, and become a better team in the long run because of it.”
The preparation to win on Friday at Christ School (8-3, 0-1) started long before they boarded busses for a 6.7-mile drive down Hendersonville Road and Sweeten Creek Road.
The preparation began at practice Wednesday and Thursday when Cogburn began instilling a belief in his team, a thought that prevailed into the game. He spoke of sacrifice, belief, action and faith, about being a giver instead of a taker — important but intangible elements critical for success especially when faced with overcoming years of coming up short.
He had help.
“We had a young man choose to be a giver and he did so with honesty,” Coburn said. “He’s a senior and he said, ‘I don’t want this to be about me, I want this to be about you. He followed with his actions, the way he approached sprints drills and modeled his behavior.”
Coburn hesitated to name the player.
It’s Rutherford. The same senior who hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter to give the Wildcats a 13-6 lead in the first quarter, their largest of the entire night.
“We prepared and we knew that we could do it,” Rutherford said. “As soon as we hit those first few we shots we had a confidence boost.”
The first quarter ended with Christ School up by two. At halftime, the teams were tied. Christ School had the advantage — they owned the rivalry, they had seven seniors, they were in their gym and they had defeated nationally-ranked High Point Wesleyan Christian last Friday.
But they hadn’t knocked out the Wildcats who grew more confident the longer the game lasted.
“We believed in each other, more than in any game this year,” Brown said. “We play for family, friends and school. We knew.”
The Greenies went ahead 55-48 with 6:15 to go on a no-look pass from Halvorsen to William Fleming. Cogburn called for time. Carolina Day scored on six of its next seven possessions.
Halvorsen, who has signed to play at Western Carolina, swished a 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the game at 67 with 41 ticks to tock. Neither team scored again in regulation.
Rutherford toed the line ready to shoot two free throws with 4.1 left. But a lane violation from a teammate erased that opportunity.
They made up for it in overtime by scoring on five straight trips to open the extra period. The next time Rutherford stepped to the line, his teammates and classmates had already rushed the court one time. He made the first with 0.6 on the clock. The second attempt didn’t matter.
Their belief became proof.