RONDA - Starmount pulled out a hard-fought 54-53 victory over East Wilkes Tuesday night, likely avoiding regular-season champion Elkin in the first-round of the Mountain Valley Conference tournament next week.
In a battle of 5-9 squads, the Rams withstood a furious Cardinal comeback to pick up the all-important victory to likely bypass the Buckin’ Elks in the opening game of the tourney.
The teams traded hoops in a back-and-forth opening half as East grabbed a 17-16 lead at the end of one. The Cardinals pushed their advantage out to 28-25 at the break.
But the Rams turned up their defensive pressure in the third, limiting East to just seven points in the frame, jumping out to 43-35 lead at the end of three.
The Cards responded with a charge in the fourth, eventually tying the game at 52-52 late in the frame on a Chandler Bare layup with 21 ticks remaining.
Luke Shore drew a foul and hit both shots from the free throw line to give Starmount a 54-52 bump.
Avery Wallis was hacked on a drive to the basket with 0.3 seconds on the clock, heading to the line with a chance to tie the game. But the senior missed the first shot, forcing an intentional miss on the second attempt.
Wallis banked the shot in as the Rams inbounded the ball in and sealed the crucial one-point victory.
Shore powered Starmount with 18 points and seven rebounds on the night, while freshman Kyler Gregory came up big with 16 points and seven boards. James Ashley tacked on 10 points.
Wallis recorded a game-high 24 points to lead the Cardinals, while Bare and McKinley Johnson tacked on 10 points apiece.
With the win, the Rams (6-9) mixed up the conference standings heading into the final night of the regular season.
Starmount, Alleghany and West Wilkes all sit in the fourth spot at 6-9, while East Wilkes, Forbush and Ashe County are 5-10 with one game remaining.
Both squads return to action tonight for Senior Night, with the Rams hosting North Wilkes and East welcoming Alleghany to town.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or email@example.com.