HAMLET — The buzz of the crowd inside Hamlet Middle School’s gym Tuesday could only be associated with one thing — the Rockingham and Hamlet rivalry.
In the latest chapter between the cross-county rivals’ boys’ basketball saga, the Rockets and Red Rams didn’t disappoint. Coming down to the wire, a pair of last-minute field goals by the Rockets, and a nearly made game-tying half-court shot by Hamlet’s Paul McNeil, had both sides of the venue rocking.
It was head coach Julius Bowden’s Rockets who escaped with the win, edging the Red Rams by one possession, 42-39. It marked Rockingham’s fourth-straight win after starting the season 0-2, while Hamlet and head coach Keith Parsons dropped their second consecutive contest and are now 3-3 on the season.
“I’m proud of all my guys and they played hard,” Bowden said postgame. “It was a tough game with an intense environment. I’m proud we were able to come out with a victory.
“Coach Parsons had his guys prepared and they played a tough game tonight,” he added. “I believe the energy from our fans and cheerleaders pushed us to victory.”
Both teams started the game with strong performances, as the Rockets jumped out to an early 12-8 lead following the first six minutes of play. Rockingham’s Zion Baldwin led the way for both teams, netting five of his 14 total points. Hamlet’s Xavier Wall went 4-for-6 at the charity stripe to keep the game within two possessions.
The Red Rams started the first three minutes of the second frame on an 8-2 run to regain a slim 16-14 lead. The home team continued its offensive push, using back-to-back transition buckets by David McNair and Paul McNeil to hold its largest lead of the night, 20-15.
Rockingham responded with a 6-2 run of its own in the final 90 seconds, using a Talan Stoner triple to close the deficit to one point. At the intermission, Hamlet led 22-21.
Out of the break, the third quarter saw both teams go on almost identical runs. Dakota Chavis began a 7-0 Rocket run to open the first 1:20 with a drive in the paint. A bucket by Noah Hogan, and three points from Jaden Jenks saw Rockingham retake the lead 28-22.
Hamlet wouldn’t go away quietly, as a shot off the glass by McNair ignited a 7-1 run by the Red Rams to tie the game at 29 heading into the final stanza. Also scoring in that span was Wall, who preceded a McNair three-pointer with a drive.
With bragging rights on the line, Rockingham would muster enough offense to outscore Hamlet 13-10 in the final six minutes. Baldwin hit two baskets on two straight possessions under the hoop to begin play, but Hamlet’s JV Drake, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season, was quick to respond.
Drake pulled up back-to-back three-pointers, draining both, to knot the game at 35 with 3:45 to go. A steal by McNeil on the next Rockingham possession led to Drake hitting a floater in transition to go up two points.
With 2:55 left in regulation, Stoner answered with a three-ball of his own. Jenks gave Rockingham its final lead change of the night, kissing the ball off the glass from under the basket. A pair of made free throws by McNeil with 1:03 on the clock would be the last points for Hamlet.
In a last chance desperation shot, Hamlet inbounded the ball with 2.1 seconds left. McNeil launched a shot from just inside half court, as the game-tying three-point attempt rattled in and out of the cylinder.
Adding to Baldwin’s game-high 14 points was Jenks (12), Hogan (8), Chavis (8), and Stoner (6). Wall led the Red Rams with 10 points, followed by Drake (8), McNair (7), McNeil (4) and CC Wall (4).
The Rockets will head to East Hoke Middle School Thursday, while Hamlet will look to end its skid on the road at Anson Middle School the same day. Tip-offs are slated for 5 p.m.