YORK — Michael Dalton knew Region 3-AAAA was loaded with powerhouse teams when he accepted the boys head basketball coaching position at York Comprehensive High School.
His view of one of the Palmetto State’s toughest regions became a reality when the Cougars’ return from the holiday break included consecutive games against top 10 opponents last week.
The Cougars traveled to No. 7-rated Northwestern last Friday, with the Trojans prevailing, 87-69. In an earlier game last week, No. 6-rated South Pointe defeated the Cougars 80-59.
“We came back from the holiday break and played the No. 6 and 7 teams in 4A classification,” Dalton said after Friday’s loss at Northwestern. “Northwestern is a great team.”
Dalton lauded the players’ commitment to the program and believes the Cougars have the potential to make some noise in region play this season.
“Our kids are playing hard,” said Dalton, who previously served as an assistant coach at perennial basketball power Gaffney. “They are doing what we ask them to do.”
He added: “We can still make the playoffs by putting some wins together in the region. I will continue to emphasize that better defensive play will be our primary emphasis the remainder of the season.”
The Cougars stayed within striking distance of Northwestern in Friday’s clash in Trojan Country. The teams traded baskets in a closely-contested first quarter that ended with the score at 17-all.
With the score tied at 9-9 earlier in the first quarter, TaWaun Neely’s basket pushed the Cougars ahead 11-9.
Playmaking point guard Daurice Simpson’s drive to the hoop expanded York’s lead to 13-9.
After the Trojans regained the lead at 14-13, consecutive baskets by Simpson and Deshaw Andrews pushed York’s lead back to three at 17-14.
But Northwestern answered with a three-pointer that tied the game entering quarter number two.
After the Trojans built a 26-17 second-quarter lead, senior mainstay Jerome Pettiway muscled his way for a putback that sliced the lead to seven.
With Northwestern leading 31-22, sophomore guard Jalann McPhail nailed a three-pointer and the lead was back to seven.
Later, Andrews answered a Northwestern basket and the Trojans led 33-26.
But home-standing Northwestern reeled off five straight points to lead 38-26 at the halftime break.
With help from teammates Simpson and Neely, Andrews went on a scoring frenzy in the third quarter.
When the quarter was over and the dust had settled, the Trojans had outscored the visiting Cougars by a single point to lead 61-48.
The Cougars whittled the lead to single digits (63-54) on a basket by Andrews in the early moments of the final quarter, but the Trojans made a run, eventually winning by 18.
The Cougars make the trek to Blue Eagle Country Friday to battle longtime rival Clover in an 8 p.m. Region 3-AAAA game following the girls’ clash at 6:30 p.m.