Friday evening at Sparta High School, the Hurley Tigers defeated the Verona Wildcats for the Class 1, District 4 title, 55-52. Under the leadership of coach Terry Mitchell, the Tigers have won two straight district championships. The game was tightly contested, with the Tigers never holding more than a five point lead the entire night.
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The Tigers jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead in the first quarter, but by the end of the first it was the Wildcats in the lead, 12-11. Both teams would take and lose the lead throughout the first-half, without either side ever holding more than a three point advantage. The game was a very rough and tumble contest, with many “no-calls” for both sides. This caused the crowd to get involved in the game, making for a very loud atmosphere.
At the half, the score was tied 21-21 and at the end of the third quarter the score was still tied, 35-35.
In the fourth quarter, Hurley would jump out quickly to a five point lead, 43-38, on a three-point bucket by junior George Hoyt. The Wildcats would make a run on the Tigers and would get within one point when senior Justin Smith would score a bucket at the 2:15 mark to make the score 49-48. Hurley senior Tyler Simpson, who had a game high 29 points, would score 13 of the Tigers’ last 14 points to seal the game for Hurley.
With the score 54-52 and 17 seconds left in the game, Hurley missed a free throw that gave Verona the chance to tie or win the game. With 10 seconds, Verona shot a three that rimmed out and Simpson grabbed the rebound. He was immediately fouled and went to the line to shoot two. Simpson made the first shot, but missed the second, giving the Wildcats one more chance.
“I knew when I missed that free throw that I’d better get back on defense,” said Simpson. “This is our second district title in a row. It’s just an unbelievable feeling. Verona came out ready to play tonight and they fought for it. As a team we struggled, but we came through.”
Verona would grab the defensive rebound, transition quickly up the floor, and shoot a three that hit the rim and bounced out, giving Hurley the 55-52 victory.
“When Simpson missed that last free throw I was thinking ‘the way the game is going, Verona’s going to hit a three and we’re going to foul somebody’,” said Mitchell. “We’re going to give up a four point lead, for sure. Right before that, Jalyn Wilson missed his, and both of them are 90% free throw shooters. It was just one of those nights.”
Verona head coach Brad Stewart was proud of the way his team played and recognized how far they have come to make it to this point.
“Our team has overcome a lot of adversity this year, so making it to district finals is a major accomplishment,” said Stewart. “I’m proud of our boys, they never quit. A made bucket here or there and we’re celebrating and they’re not. It was that tough of a game, it could have gone either way. Nothing to be ashamed of with the game tonight and the way the team played.”
“Coach Stewart, I knew he was going to have a good game plan,” said Mitchell. “They’re a good team. The referees let both sides play a little bit and we gave up some easy baskets later on. I told these boys, right now, nobody cares what the score was, just that we survived.”
Hurley 11 10 14 20 -55
Verona—Tomas Estrada-17, Justin Smith-11, Dre Sitton-11, Seth Hilton-10, Seth Losack-3.
Hurley—Tyler Simpson-29, Jalyn Wilson-12, George Hoyt-9, Brandon Hair-5.