By REID TUCKER
Paxton’s back-to-back homecoming wins against the visiting Poplar Springs Atomics were varying degrees of explosive, as the Bobcats routed their opponents by 69-41 while the Lady Cats’ fourth-quarter surge resulted in a 44-23 finish.
The Bobcats’ win against Poplar Springs, a district opponent, improved their record to 9-4 and 4-3 in league play, while the Atomics dropped to 8-8 and 2-6 in the District 1, Class A standings. On the girls’ side, Paxton moved up to 12-7 on the year and 6-1 in the district, and Poplar Springs fell to 11-7, 3-4. The top Paxton scorers on the night were 3-point specialist Austin Carnley, who put up 21 points for the boys’ squad, and Emily Murray, whose 18 points were piled on all at once in the fourth quarter, when she went 9-for-12 at the foul line.
The boys’ game started off close, with Poplar Springs hanging back by two or so points until a brace of 3s from Marcus Bradley around the 1:30 mark gave the Bobcats the push they needed to double the Atomics’ score at 14-7. By the time another minute elapsed, Dustin Geoghagan had put in another 3-pointer and Desmond Moore scored on a layup to make it a 19-7 game. However, the Atomics stayed in it with a perimeter goal from Eric Todd to end Q1 with a 10-point Paxton lead.
Paxton simply outshot Poplar Springs the rest of the way, going 8-for-13 from the floor in the second quarter, 6-for-15 in the third while holding the Atomics to three baskets and finally, 5-for-13 in the final period. The Bobcats held on to a 10-point lead throughout most of the second quarter, with nearly the whole bench scoring at least once before the intermission. Paxton’s continuous shooting eventually stretched out the lead, capped off when Bradley stole the ball and swished at the buzzer to put his team up 38-22 at halftime.
Q3 was much the same story, though Paxton’s defense had the biggest impact then, holding the Atomics to seven points in the period while the Bobcats added 15 on offense. Carnley scored on a 3-pointer and a layup plus a 2-for-2 showing in Paxton’s sole appearance at the foul line in what was surely one of the cleaner hoops contests in recent memory. Only Poplar Springs’ scoring leader Colby Sorrells (14 points) managed any significant progress for the Atomics in the third quarter, scoring five points with a field goal and an and-1 near the buzzer.
Geoghagan scored 3s on back-to-back possessions halfway into the final period to give Paxton an insurmountable 60-35 lead with 4:06 to go in the game. Carnley and Moore each added another three and change, with Moore’s shot from the arch coming in with 1:04 remaining to give the Bobcats a high-water score of 69-37. Paxton would not score again before the end of the game and Poplar Springs added two more baskets to its tally before the last buzzer, but the Bobcats still came away with the 28-point margin of victory.
The girls’ contest, which was played last of the evening in order to give several members of the homecoming court time to exchange their gowns for basketball jerseys, was more defense-oriented from the start compared to the boys’ game. The game was scoreless until 5:22 to go in the first quarter, when Chrissy Currid put in a layup, but the score was tied up at 2-all just 20 seconds later when Kelli McIntosh scored her first two shots from the field. Paxton’s Bethany Neale (eight points on the evening) drained a 3-point shot to put the Lady Cats ahead for good in the game, as the Atomics never tied or reclaimed the lead from then on.
After ending the first quarter with her team ahead a scant 8-6, Paxton’s Allison Carnley added another three points 30 seconds into the second period. The Lady Cats never looked back, all while holding Poplar Springs to only four points in the remaining seven minutes. Murray and Neale added a layup apiece to give the Lady Cats the 15-10 advantage they’d carry into the break.
The Paxton defense shut down the Atomics once again in the third quarter, holding Poplar Springs to one basket for six attempts, while the Lady Cats scored 4-of-10 from the field. However, Poplar Springs press also cost Paxton, and turnovers posed problems for both sides. Cassidy Brazile scored four points in the third quarter, doing most of the lifting needed to propel Paxton to a 20-10 lead with 3:15 to go, though it was Murray’s and-1 which kept the team ahead by 10 at the quarter’s end.
Poplar Springs took 14 shots at the basket and came up with only three in the final period, whereas Paxton made 5-of-12 but still managed a 20-9 split in scoring thanks to Murray, who shot the lights out from the foul line. She nailed 8-of-10 free throws to put Paxton ahead 34-14 and was joined by 3-pointers from Neale and Katie Sebastian and some 2s from Quinn Williams and Cortni McKee to round out Paxton’s effort on offense. Poplar Springs didn’t score until three minutes left to play, when a Beth Hall steal-turned-layup made it a 38-18 game in the Lady Cats’ favor, but even a renewed attack on the part of the Atomics proved too little too late, as Paxton finished them off by 21 points.