By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Brighton Cardinals are growing up right before our eyes.
In recent games, Darryle Rogers’ crew picked up a victory over Center Hill and played quality teams like Covington, Kirby and Millington tough.
The latest team to witness the maturation of the Cardinals were the Briarcrest Saints. After taking a 32-21 lead in the third quarter, it appeared Briarcrest was ready to cruise to victory.
But the Cardinals staged a rally in the Brighton Gymnasium Jan. 21 to make the score 36-35 in favor of the Saints.
Briarcrest regrouped from the Brighton run to used foul shots to prevail 48-37.
“I didn’t realize we were down by 11,” Rogers acknowledged. “But they just kept on fighting back. Yesterday in practice, we worked on a good defensive effort. Tonight, I was proud of them.”
In the Cardinals’ previous four games, Brighton gave up an average of 77 points. Holding the Saints under 50 was a sign the practice worked.
But the Saints used their size advantage with players like Gus Gran, Maceo Woodard and Micah Thomas to limit scoring chances for the Cardinals.
Briarcrest held a 9-7 lead after one quarter. The Saints opened the second quarter with a 9-4 run featuring an Adam Pike three-pointer.
Cardinal Tramaine Cooper slowed down Briarcrest’s momentum with a three-pointer to make the score 18-14. Woodard closed out the first half with a jumper giving the Saints a 20-14 advantage at the break.
The third quarter started with a Lorenzo Hunt layup making the score 20-16. Then the Saints responded with a 12-5 run to build an 11-point lead.
With 2 minutes and 20 seconds left in the period, Cardinal senior Milton Hardy sparked a run for his team. The power forward hit a hook shot in the paint to make the score 32-23.
Moments later Brighton senior center Charles Mosley located Cooper for a layup to make the score 32-27.
The Cardinals’ defense leading to points became a theme for the next few minutes of the game. After forcing a steal, Hardy gathered the ball and headed to the opposite rim for a bucket making the tally 32-29.
A pair of foul shots from Saints guard Mark French made the score 34-29 after three quarters.
Briarcrest was ahead 36-29 when Cardinal senior guard Tyvon Cooper made a pair of free throws to cut the deficit back to 5 points.
Then Ty Cooper made a steal and raced to the other end of the floor for two points. The Saints were able to inbound the ball.
As French brought the ball up court, the younger Cooper Tra picked the ball from a dribbling French. The rip led to a Tra Cooper layup and a 36-35 score.
Briarcrest made the decision to use its experience to melt the clock. Using a patient offensive scheme, the Saints forced Brighton to foul. The Saints made 7 of 8 foul shots down the stretch to prevail 48-37.
“It’s only one senior who is starting,” Rogers noted. “The rest are sophomore and juniors. So there is a little immaturity out there. But the maturity is showing and growing. Come district tournament time, if we keep up the intensity they showed tonight, I like our chances. They’re growing.”
Rogers said if the progression of his ball club continues from January to February, the Cardinals could earn a higher seed come Regionals.
“ If everything is clicking and everybody is healthy, I think we can be real good,” he said. “We’re real competitive. After a lot of our games, people say we’re good. One thing I want them to do is move from good to great.
“Just like in the book we talk about, there are some aspects in moving from good to great that take time,” Rogers concluded. “Once all the rocks on that mountain are strong, we’ll be a better team toward the end of the season and start of next season.”