It was a big rivalry battle and a bittersweet game for the First Presbyterian Christian Academy boys’ basketball team Tuesday night.
The Highlanders topped Savannah rival Bethesda, 72-63, in their first home game of the season at St. James Sports Center.
Former FPCA coach Ernie Walthour, who was killed in July in an apparent robbery, was honored before the game. The center is where Walthour started his career as a sports director and youth-basketball coach for the AAU Coastal Crew Rebels around 20 years ago. FPCA board member Jerry Kicklighter spoke about Walthour’s devotion to the children of Holmestown and youth-basketball leagues. That was followed by a prayer and a moment of silence.
Then it was game time. FPCA started with a 5-1 run. But the Blazers, who FPCA battled for two state titles when they were in the same division a few years ago, battled back and took a three-point lead at the close of the first quarter. The Blazers still held a lead at halftime, although FPCA’s George Mitchell hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the deficit to one point.
But the Highlanders kept their cool and trusted new head coach Shane Smith, a long-time friend of Walthour. Smith kept Mitchell on the outside knowing that with a bit of patience, the Blazers would step toward the middle. The strategy worked, and Mitchell sank eight 3-pointer shots en route to 32 points in the game.
Senior Domonique Kirkely managed the floor, methodically setting up passes and also scoring 18 points.
“It was a very emotional night for us,” Smith said. “Ernie will always be with us. I know that he was smiling down at those kids and the effort that they displayed tonight.”
Smith gave credit to his level-headed freshman, Mitchell.
“George had a great ball game,” Smith said. “For a freshman, that was an incredible performance by him. He has the mind-set to continue to play at that level if he just stays patient.”
Smith added that Kirkley did a great job of controlling the ball and he was proud of the way his team adjusted its game when forward Ahman Muhammed ran into early foul trouble.
“I was curious to see how we would react with him out of a game in foul trouble,” Smith said. “We were much better than I expected.”
Frederick Heaggans had a pair of 3-pointers, and Kirkley nailed one from behind the arc.
FPCA (2-0) travels to Lyons for the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament this weekend.
FPCA — 13/18/17/24: 72
BA — 16/16/13/18: 63
FPCA scoring: G. Mitchell 32, D. Kirkley 18, F. Heaggans 8, R. Smith 6, J. Phillips 4, A. Muhammed 4