COLUMBIA — The Central Catholic Raiders seemingly were running in quicksand. Coach Mike Wilson was raging on the bench. The Summerville Bears sensed an upset.
All signs pointed toward Summerville until Central Catholic unleashed its not-so-secret weapon its state champion football players.
The result was a 14-point deficit erased and, ultimately, a hard-earned 60-56 win over a good Summerville team Thursday in the first round of the Fuchs Memorial Holiday Classic.
Central Catholic (11-1) meets Merced today at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinals beneath the geodesic dome of Columbia College's Oak Pavilion.
Joe Hamilton, the Raiders' 6-foot-5 junior guard, swooped down the baseline for a finish and a 58-56 lead with 41 seconds left. After a turnover and two free throws by Donovin Townsend one of those football players CC escaped.
"Our plan was to get a lot of guys in the game and get ready for league," Wilson said. "This was a character game. The kids trusted each other and came back."
It was hardly easy. Summerville (7-2) clearly bothered Central Catholic's 6-9 center John Fenton (12 points) by building a human wall around him 6-7 Rosendo Amaya-Wood, 6-7 Connor Morningstar and 6-6 Jesse Roberson (14). For the first time this season, Fenton's shots were blocked or contested.
The Raiders trailed 23-9 midway through the second period and 37-26 deep into third quarter when Wilson opted for a four-guard attack supporting Fenton. Immediately, CC forced turnovers off its press and totaled 11 straight points thanks to contributions from the shoulder pads trio Townsend, Tyrell Elder and guard Nate Loya.
"The football group gave us a spark," said Hamilton, who had 13 points. "We found our energy after that."
Backup guard Dylan Morrison gave CC the lead for good at 50-48 on two free throws with 4:09 left. CC eventually mobilized its power game, however, due in part to Summerville foul trouble. The Bears, paced by 6-3 guard Logen Foster with 20 points and Roberson with 14, more than scared the Raiders.
"We had a couple of letdowns at the wrong time defensively," Summerville coach Ben Watson said. "I can't complain about our effort. Central is a good team."
ESCALON 64, BEYER 58 The Cougars (8-5) scored the game's final eight points, two on baseline drives by Ryan Bartelink, to stop the Patriots (6-7). Beyer, which trailed 37-26 at halftime, led 54-48 with three minutes left.
A scoop in the paint by Alec Von Alvensleben (20 points) gave Escalon the lead to stay. Anthony Galloway paced Beyer with 15 points, followed by Donovan Galloway and Justice Harris with 10 apiece.
SIERRA 57, ATWATER 32 The defending champion Timberwolves (6-3) quickly swarmed the Falcons (9-6) with their trademark intensity. Guards Eric Melgar (11 points) and Guillermo Nunez (10) were instrumental in Sierra building a 26-5 lead midway through the second period. Ben Peterson topped Atwater with 16 points.
MERCED 39, SONORA 35 The Bears (5-8) inched away from the Wildcats (4-7) in the fourth quarter, thanks to baseline triples by Travante Richard (10 points) and Jonathan Charizez. Charizez's layup, off a good pass by Richard, upped Merced's lead to 38-30 with 50 seconds left.
Ben Bates, a 6-7 senior forward, topped Sonora with 12 points.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.