After leading at halftime, the Cass Colonels found themselves having to mount a furious comeback late in the fourth quarter against Villa Rica Saturday.
They very nearly did, cutting a 53-41 deficit to one point, but couldn’t quite finish off the comeback, eventually falling 56-52 to the Wildcats.
“[Villa Rica] shot the ball better than I anticipated,” Cass coach David Brock said. “But what got us beat was offensive rebounds. They were crashing hard and getting easy ones and free throws.”
Ashton Burley had 20 points, nine of them in the fourth quarter, for Cass (2-2), taking over the game with a scintillating stretch that almost dragged his team to the win.
The Colonels had the ball down 55-52 with under a minute left, but Villa Rica locked down the initial action that Cass wanted and Carter Hedden was forced into a contested 3-pointer that was partially deflected with just over 10 seconds left.
Villa Rica corralled the rebound and sealed the win with a free throw.
“We were trying to screen the screener to get Steven Spell a 3,” Brock said. “They did a good job of switching both. We thought we might get them mixed up on the screens, but they guarded it well.”
The game between closely-matched region rivals stayed close throughout.
Villa Rica led 14-13 after the first quarter.
The Colonels flipped that around to lead 26-22 at halftime despite losing Burley and Mark Chester, perhaps their two most important players, for long stretches after both picked up two early fouls.
“Those guys did a good job in the second quarter of competing and keeping us in the game,” Brock said.
The third quarter then belonged to Villa Rica again, as the Wildcats took a 41-37 lead going to the fourth.
They expanded the lead early in the last period.
Philip Zachery made a 3-pointer and Jeffrey Dudley swished home two as Villa Rica looked to be running away with it.
The run forced Brock to call a timeout halfway through the quarter, down 53-41.
Led by Burley, the Colonels responded. Out of options and running out of time, the Colonels went to a press that flustered Villa Rica.
Burley got a steal and went in for a layup.
“I’d much rather go to [the press] when we’re in control than go to it to bail us out,” Brock said. “But that did get us back in the game. I’m encouraged, but [pressing] is still not something we hang our hat on.”
The next time down, Burley and Markeldrick Powell double-teamed the Wildcat ballhandler. Powell came up with the steal and tossed it ahead to Burley.
The senior point guard went right to the rim and made the layup while being fouled hard.
He stayed down for a minute, but walked it off and stuck the free throw to make it 53-50.
On the next possession, he made two more free throws to cut the margin to 53-52 with 1:45 left.
“[Burley] played really hard for us,” Brock said. “When our backs are against the wall, I think that’s when he plays best.”
Those would be the last points Cass scored.
Villa Rica tried to keep the ball away from the Colonels, and Javonte Hart eventually went to the line and made two free throws to make it 55-52.
Hedden couldn’t get his tough shot to fall on the next possession, and that was it.
The Colonels will have another region matchup against Paulding County Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s early on, our first region game, but we have to bounce back from that Tuesday,” Brock said.