CLOVER — The Clover High School boys’ basketball team finished the Optimist Basketball Classic with a 42-29 win against the Cuthbertson (N.C.) Cavaliers in a consolation showdown.
The Cavaliers stayed within striking distance for the better part of three quarters during the Friday contest, until the Blue Eagles stepped up the pace in the fourth quarter.
Senior playmaking guard Ratwan Pitts ignited the fourth-quarter surge, scoring on a breakaway to expand the Blue Eagles’ lead to 30-22.
R.J. Moore, Clover’s scoring leader with 13 points, then stole the ball and scored, pushing the lead to 32-22. After a Cavalier basket, Moore scored again to extend the lead to double figures.
After Mark Cavanaugh and Alex Thompson converted free throws on separate possessions, the Blue Eagle lead was 37-24.
Ladarius Adams and Moore had key baskets down the stretch to seal the win.
Moore, whose court presence is a vital part of the Blue Eagles’ success, said he chooses his moments to contribute depending on the flow of the game. “I let the game come to me and take what the defense gives me,” Moore said.
The junior isn’t shy about driving the lane, however: “I like taking it to the hoop, where I can use the opportunity to score or dish the ball off to a teammate,” he said.
Moore said he also takes pride in playing defense. “Defense is the key to success as we get into regular-season play,” he said.
The Cavaliers and Blue Eagles fought on near even terms in the first half, with Cuthbertson clinging to an 18-17 halftime lead.
Moore, Cavanaugh and Bryce Allen helped the Blue Eagles keep pace in the first half. Clover then was able to build a six-point cushion by the end of the third quarter.
A highlight of the Blue Eagles’ third-quarter run was Allen banking the ball off the glass after a crafty spin in the lane.
Allen, who scored 10 points against the Cavaliers, also had made his presence felt in a 50-42 win against Fairfield Central on the second day of the tournament. The Blue Eagles built a 19-10 first-quarter lead against the Centurions, with Allen, Adams and Moore leading the way.
Pitts’ reverse layup off the glass pushed the lead to 10-0 with 4:34 left in the first quarter.
But Fairfield came roaring back in the second quarter, knotting the score at 24 at the half.
“We lost our lead in the second quarter and played better in the second half for the win,” said Allen.
Allen, a junior, helped the effort with several shots from three-point range.
“I have confidence in my shot,” he said. “If you miss a couple shots, you can’t back off. You have to get into a rhythm.”
Blue Eagle head coach Bailey Jackson said the players gained valuable experience during the Optimist Classic. “It was a good opportunity to take a close look at our players before regular-season play begins,” said Jackson. “We played a lot of kids, rotating players off the bench. A lot of our guys contributed.”
Jackson said defense would be a primary focus early this season. “Defense wins games,” he said.
Jackson said he was pleased with the response to this year’s Optimist Classic. “It was a great tournament,” he said. “There were outstanding teams in the tournament and the fans enjoyed it.”