Home Local Sports No. 1 Rockets claim second straight SEMSAC title

No. 1 Rockets claim second straight SEMSAC title

The 2022-23 SEMSAC champion Rockingham Rockets basketball team. (Deon Cranford/The Richmond Observer)

ROCKINGHAM – High school basketball in Richmond County has never been more exciting than it is right now.  In the last two weeks, three Richmond Senior High School boys basketball records were set, the first commitment by a Raider to a Power 5 conference school was made, and standing room only crowds are filling Raider Gym two to three times per week. 

The great news for Raider fans is that the hardwood heroics may not be temporary.

Along with several returning varsity players and a very successful junior varsity squad, each of Richmond County’s middle schools had some talent on show. 

However, the Rockingham Middle School’s boys’ team played on a different level in 2022-23.  Not only did the Rockets finish the season as conference champs with a perfect 11-0 mark, but only one of their games was ever really in doubt and it occurred near the beginning of the season. 

That season-long dominance includes last week’s 40-20 victory over East Hoke Middle in the Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference title game.

“I give them all the credit,” said a teary-eyed Julius Bowden following the championship win. “They work hard. They do what we ask. I’ve had some of those guys for three years, so to see them go is a little emotional.”

Like Rockingham, several of their opponents have boasted some quality shooters – including East Hoke.  However, what separated the Rockets from everyone else was their defensive play and rebounding.  The Rockets held their opponents to single-digit scoring in the first half of six of their 11 games and out-rebounded their opponents 4-to-1 in their two postseason outings.

Andrea Streeter had a game-high 9 rebounds in the championship win. (Deon Cranford/The Richmond Observer)

“We preach intensity,” Bowden explained.  “We put a lot of influence on defense.  We probably practice more on defense than anything else.  We play very aggressive and put a lot of pressure on the ball handlers creating a lot of turnovers.”

On the board, eighth grader Andrae Streeter and sixth grader Cam’ron Coley have been huge – especially in the last few weeks.  Streeter and Coley alone combined for more rebounds than East Hoke had as a team helping the Rockets to create numerous fast-break and second-chance opportunities.

Bowden cites rebounding as the team’s biggest area of improvement throughout the season.  “We were getting beat on the boards early in the season,” Bowden said.  “We worked on that a lot and got better.  Once (Cam’ron Coley) figured out the game, he was big for us.”

Another player that stepped up in the finale was C.J. Covington.  Covington finished the game with three points, but had several key assists including an impressive pass to Coley in the second quarter that triggered a response from excited home crowd.

“C.J. had an out-of-body day for us,” Bowden laughed.  “There were a couple of times that I was about to yell ‘C.J. what are you doing?’ but then he’d make a big play. He’s a great athlete and does what we need him to do.”  

C.J. Covington brings the ball up the court after a steal. (Deon Cranford/The Richmond Observer)

No player has been bigger this season for the Rockets than Chance Crowder.  Crowder was the championship game’s only double-digit scorer with 15 points, but also added 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks for the Rockets.  That’s even more impressive when you consider that he was on the court for less than 25 of the game’s 40 minutes.

Early on, it appeared as though spectators were going to be treated to a great game between seemingly even opponents.  Both teams had recorded 4 points, both had two steals and both had a blocked shot that triggered a crowd response. 


From there, the game took a different trajectory as the Rockets scored the next 17 straight points with Covington, Crowder, Coley, Streeter, and B.J. Hinson all contributing to the run.

Covington started the run with a three-pointer to put the Rockets ahead 7-4 with 3:50 remaining in the opening quarter.  A minute later, Crowder intercepted an East Hoke pass and returned it for an easy layup before Hinson closed out the quarter with a free throw to put the Rockets ahead 10-4 heading into the second period.

Moments later, Covington found himself surrounded by a pair of Eagles just outside of the lane and delivered a perfect behind-the-back strike to a trailing Coley who laid it in.  Two minutes later, Coley hit one-of-two from the free throw line to put Rockingham ahead 13-4 at the 6:55 mark.

Crowder hit triples on back-to-back possessions and Streeter turned one of his game-high 9 rebounds into a putback, completing the Rocket run and putting the home team ahead 21-4 with 4:50 remaining until the break.  The next five points went to the Eagles, cutting the deficit to 12 with 2:07 on the clock, but East Hoke would not score again until the fourth quarter.

A three-pointer and a free throw from Covington and another putback from Streeter rounded out the first half scoring sending the Rockets to the locker room in control at 27-9.

The Rockets outscored its visitors 13-0 in the third period to take a 40-9 lead into the final quarter.  Bowden pulled his starters with four minutes left in the third quarter and would enter his third string into the game about midway through the fourth.

With the Rockingham back-ups in the game, the Eagles scored the final 11 points rounding out the scoring.

“I wanted to give the younger players a chance so that we they come back next year, they are not overwhelmed,” Bowden said.  “To have my third string play in the championship is crazy.”

In addition to Crowder’s game-high 15 points, Streeter added 9 for the Rockets, Covington and Hinson each had 5, and Coley and Colton Nelson each netted 3.

The victory is the program’s 22nd in a row and its second straight conference title.  

“I’m happy for them,” Bowden concluded.  “I’m just proud of these guys and all that they’ve done.”

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