By Jeff Stapleton
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Caroline Cavaliers basketball team was top seed in the Region 4B playoffs and they were playing in front of a packed house on a night where the gym is to be dedicated to former coach Jimmy Blanton. Yet a 5’6” Eastern View Cyclone guard, who’s built like a fire hydrant, doused any flames that were generated from the atmosphere of the night.
D’Ago Hunter led Eastern View with 32 points Wednesday night and was hitting everything in sight as the eighth seed Cyclones defeated Caroline 69-66. And just like that, the Cavaliers’ season ends with a record of 20-4 and seniors like A.J. Walker, Jabrell Stevens and David Ware will never play at Caroline High School again. That made for an extra emotional locker room for Coach Antoine Johnson.
“The guys were upset and rightfully so,” he said. “They played their hearts out this season and had a great year. One bad game and it’s over just like that.” Coach Johnson saw his team race out to an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter behind the usual dominant performance by David Ware, who ended up with 10 points in that quarter.
Eastern View, and Hunter began to heat up in the second quarter and put the defensive pressure on Ware, who struggled for points in the second eight minutes. Both teams went into the locker room tied at 30 at the break.
The first couple minutes of the second half looked like it was going to be the Cavaliers’ game to take as 5 quick points were scored on an A.J. Walker three and a turnover and another Walker basket.
Coach Johnson was happy with the way Walker played. “A.J. stepped up big time. He’s a senior and wanted to win, as did all the guys. A.J. stepped up and knocked down some big shots and kept us in the game. But, we just didn’t get it done down the stretch.” Walker ended up with 19 points.
Every time the Cavaliers looked to be pulling away, Hunter would drain a 3 to quash the momentum. He had 11 points in third quarter alone. The Cavaliers still led 52-47 at the end of the quarter.
The Cavaliers lost the lead for the first time in the final stanza after a steal and layup by Keyshawn Butler put the Cyclones up 63-61. The Cavaliers never regained the lead, though they got the deficit to one at 67-66 with 15 seconds to go on a determined drive to the basket by David Ware. The Cavaliers’ superstar ended up with 24 points. The next possession for Eastern View led to an intentional foul by the Cavaliers which then led to two made free throws by the Cyclones to make it 69-66. A Mykai Smith three pointer misfired and Cyclones players celebrated the upset win as the horn sounded.
“I just told (the kids) in the locker room that they can always tell people they are Battlefield District champion,” Coach Johnson said. “They had a great season and they should be proud of themselves.”