In Wednesday’s semifinal loss to Blessed Trinity, the Cass boys weren’t able to overcome the foul trouble of all-Region 7-AAAAA first-teamer Braxton Benham. Two days later in the …
In Wednesday’s semifinal loss to Blessed Trinity, the Cass boys weren’t able to overcome the foul trouble of all-Region 7-AAAAA first-teamer Braxton Benham.
Two days later in the region's consolation game against Hiram, another first-team all-region pick, C.J. Pipkin, found himself with a similar issue.
This time, the Colonels rose to the occasion.
Benham came up huge, racking up 20 points; Zaylan Chaney — yet another all-region first-team selection — scored nine of 13 points in the fourth quarter; and Jackson Hale buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 16 seconds to go.
“Early in the season, he didn’t play as much, because we talked about, ‘Can we depend on you on the defensive end?’” Colonels head coach Sean Glaze said of Hale. “He has busted his tail to put himself in a spot where he can contribute on the varsity level. He’s a great kid who has done nothing but work hard all offseason and all year.
“He’s been a good shooter, but today, you saw him defensively step in and be a good teammate. And in a big moment, he knocked down a big shot for us.”
Hale’s trey gave top-seeded Cass a one-point edge, but No. 2 seed Hiram still had a chance for the winning bucket in the final moments. However, the Hornets came up empty, as Benham skied for a game-sealing rebound.
Fouled with just 0.2 seconds remaining on the clock, Benham sank two foul shots for a 65-62 win and third place in the region.
It was hard to envision Benham getting to 20 points after a scoreless first quarter. When Pipkin exited in the second period, the senior, though, really came on strong, scoring 12 of Cass’ 14 points in the stanza.
Benham’s performance, as well as a much better team effort on the defensive end, saw the Colonels (19-7) rally from being down 19-15 at the end of the first quarter and 26-18 midway through the second to hold a 29-28 lead at halftime.
“We were down a little bit early,” Glaze said. “You look at the stat sheet, and [Benham] is like 0-for-5 or 0-for-6 in the first quarter. That’s not like him. When Braxton starts making shots, we start looking a little bit better.
“He does so much for us, as far as playing with poise and getting us into good possessions. That’s where we missed him the other night, when he had foul trouble. I didn’t think we responded quite as well. To be able to give us that presence and that poise down the stretch was huge.”
Despite playing possibly his fewest minutes all season, Pipkin still managed to finish with a dozen points. The senior knocked down three shots from beyond the arc, including two in the third quarter.
“When you lose a player like C.J. — who is every bit of a first-team all-region player in almost any region — he’s such a special kid and a tough kid, we’re a different team when he’s not on the court,” Glaze said. “For him to come in and score double-digits, playing only about one half, is impressive.”
Hiram, which has now lost four times to Cass this season, ended the third period with a strong push, but a 3 by Hale — who also drew a trio of charges — pulled the Colonels within 46-44 at the end of the quarter.
The Hornets (12-11) led by as many as six points in the final period before the Colonels rallied to take a 60-59 lead. Jayden Clark’s hoop-and-harm, which gave him a game-high 21 points, lifted Hiram back into the lead with under a minute remaining.
But Hale’s clutch shot from the left wing proved to be the difference, setting up Cass to face Region 6-AAAAA runner-up Villa Rica (13-10) in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Carroll County.
“We’ve been able to go on the road this season and get some wins,” Glaze said of having to hit the road in the postseason. “We’ve taken some road trips, specifically to get ready for this, because you never know what might be ahead of you.
“As disappointed as we were to not be playing later [Friday] for the region championship, as road warriors, we still have five games ahead of us that we can take care of if we play the way we’re capable of.”
Matching up with their former region rival, the Colonels will be able to take some confidence on the trip.
It’s the type of confidence that might not have been there if Cass entered the state playoffs on a two-game losing streak. But after seeing players like Hale — along with Jelani Hames, Zay Jackson and Ethan McIntyre — step up when needed, the Colonels believe they can still make a deep run.
“We’ve got a good supporting cast, who we’re going to depend on at times in the next few games,” Glaze said. “We want to make sure we let them know that they belong on the court, because they certainly can help us.”