By REID TUCKER
The hard-and-fast rule of local sports is that nobody but nobody plays harder against each other than do the Paxton Bobcats and the Laurel Hill Hoboes.
That maxim was once again proven true on the night of Dec. 13, when the Bobcats made the trip across the Walton-Okaloosa county line and nearly walked into a disaster.
Paxton had an overwhelmingly bad first quarter, turning over the ball five times and scoring only twice in 15 attempts from the floor, whereas the Hoboes were 5-for-13 to gain a 16-9 lead. With a four-game winning streak against their heated rivals at stake, the Bobcats returned to form in the second quarter, nailing 8-of-12 shots from the floor and capitalizing on five Hobo turnovers to take a 35-29 lead at the half.
Paxton’s scoring leader, senior William Anderson, put in 12 points via a pair each of free-throws, 2-pointers and shots behind the arch in the second period alone. Supporting Anderson were Desmond Moore and Grant Stewart, who each bagged perimeter shots, and freshman Zach Varnum, who made good use of a pair of and-1s.
The Bobcats weren’t altogether out of trouble though, as the third quarter saw them score just three goals from the field. Fortunately for the Walton County team, all three baskets were 3-pointers, with Anderson being joined by fellow long-range specialist Austin Carnley. Nevertheless, Laurel Hill tied the game at 35-all with 5:25 left in the period and at 41-all with 1:26 left.
The Hoboes hung right with Paxton through the buzzer, down 45-41 at quarter’s end thanks to help from Lane Strickland, who reliably drew fouls throughout the game, and a timely 3 from Bryson Cooper.
Strickland dropped off to a sole 2-pointer in the fourth quarter and, though Cooper got a 2 and 3 of his own, Anderson and the rest of the Bobcats didn’t let up as they piled on 16 points to Laurel Hill’s 12. Paxton led by nearly 10 points with 1:55 to go in the game and then settled into a comfortable 61-51 lead into closing moments, punctuated by a Josh Hartzog trip to the foul line. The Bobcats ran out the clock for the eight-point win to preserve their winning ways against Laurel Hill as well as adding to what is thus far a perfect 9-0 season with a 5-0 district record.
Anderson was far and away the highest-scoring player on the floor, earning 30 points for the Bobcats and most all from well back of the 3-point line. He also went 7-for-8 at the charity stripe. Carnley scored nine of his 12 points on the night via 3-pointers and exclusively in the second half.
Laurel Hill had three players reach double digits. Cooper scored 18 points, again mostly by way of perimeter shots. He was joined by J.J. White, who scored 12 points in the first half but ran into foul trouble early and did not score in the latter quarters. Strickland, who had success nearer to the basket, scored 12 points in the game despite a 5-for-11 showing at the free-throw line.
By REID TUCKER