By Matthew Yoder
Chincoteague fought off a one-man show from Holly Grove’s Zach Chaffins Monday night, returning to the win column in the Ponies’ first game of the new year.
Chincoteague led throughout the tight contest, employing depth and balanced scoring to better the Eagles.
Landon King opened the game for Chincoteague, feeding Luke Pride for an open look and score. Benjamin Cunningham responded for Holly Grove with an offensive rebound and put back. Collin Wright then assisted Dylan Mackley for a 3-pointer, and the Eagles gained what was to be their first and only lead of the game.
From there the Ponies tightened their defense and built an early lead off shots from Giovanni Rosanova and a buzzer beater from Ayden Leonard to close the first quarter. Chincoteague was up 11-7, but it was clear the game was destined to be a real grind-out affair, with Holly Grove always in striking distance.
Chincoteague’s bench began to make substantial contributions early in the second quarter, namely in the efforts of big man Brendan Lafayette. Lafayette was the beneficiary of great passes from Camron Davis and Brandon Bundick to post two early buckets and help his team increase its lead.
The teams traded buckets for a time in the second quarter. Chaffins paced the Eagles effort with a pair of 3-pointers, while the Ponies rotated the ball well with fresh legs on the court. Throughout the evening, Chincoteague coach Timmy Johnson made a concerted effort to substitute three players at a time and the method paid off.
As the second quarter continued, both teams began to go cold from the field, and though Chincoteague appeared out of place at times on defense, Holly Grove did not threaten with great accuracy. To their credit, the Ponies did make plays on defense when needed, with blocks from Leonard, and a steal late in the quarter from Trent Clark, which led to a fast break layup. The lead remained largely unchanged by the end of the half, with the Ponies taking a 24-21 advantage to the locker room.
Chaffins began to score in bunches for Holly Grove out of the break, first on a stutter step drive and layup. He was opposed by a couple of buckets from King. Chaffins then hit a runner and got fouled in the process, converting the 3-point play. The play brought Holly Grove to within 3.
Chincoteague always seemed to maintain its poise in light of Chaffins’ play, responding quickly thereafter with a 3 from TJ Pitts off an inbound play. The third quarter ended with Chincoteague ahead 33-31, setting the stage for an entertaining finale.
Chincoteague was certainly living on the edge at the outset of the fourth quarter, as Holly Grove stepped into open looks behind the arc to take the lead. The Eagles’ shots rattled out, but after a coast-to-coast layup from Chaffins, Holly Grove finally drew even in the game.
Chincoteague settled behind consecutive jumpers from Pride, the latter from behind the 3-point line. Chaffins added to his point total with another 3, tying the game seconds later.
Ultimately, the play of Chincoteague’s Pitts pushed the effort forward for the win. Pitts matched Chaffins with a 3, then drove confidently through the lane for a layup and sealed the win racing behind Holly Grove’s defenders off a long inbound pass. Pitts finished the game with 11 points, all in the second half, leading the way for Chincoteague. The play of Pitts highlighted a strong bench contingent for the Ponies.
“There was a lot of energy from the bench tonight,” said Johnson.
Johnson was happy to get the win but believed the game was closer than it needed to be. He was nonetheless happy to see his team’s composure take center stage.
For Holly Grove, Chaffins did what he could to keep his team competitive, scoring a game high 25 points, but his teammates did not provide enough support in the pivotal second half.