Brookwood beats Patriots for No. 4 seed

LILBURN - Friday night's boys basketball game between Brookwood and Berkmar can pretty much be considered a dress rehearsal.

The visiting Broncos can only hope the performance that counts goes as well as the dry run went.

Brookwood had nine of its 12 players that took the floor make their way into the scoring column, led by Chris Bolden's 17 points, and hit key free throws down the stretch to hold off the host Patriots for a 72-68 win.

With Brookwood (17-8, 9-7) claiming the No. 4 seed from Region 8-AAAAA and Berkmar (13-11, 8-8) falling to No. 5, the two teams are scheduled to meet again in the first round of the region tournament on the same court early next week.

And if Friday's game is any sort of indicator, Brookwood coach Craig Witmer should be pretty confident that he will get his team's best effort.

"Call it practice, call it a run-through, call it whatever you want," Witmer said. "But just like in practice, we like to compete. But the kids know they'll have a heck of a game on their hands (next week)."

The Broncos had a pretty tough game on their hands Friday, with 13 lead changes and seven ties during the first three quarters.

Even when Brookwood used a 6-2 run in the last 1:31 of the third quarter to take the lead for good, and then build as much as a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, the issue wasn't fully decided.

Nick Henry helped keep the Patriots within striking distance by erupting for 13 of his game-high 24 points in the final frame, including eight straight free throws on a night in which he hit all 14 of his shots from the line.

But even as Berkmar was able to score to stay close, Brookwood was able to keep the Patriots at arm's length by hitting its own free throws.

After struggling from the line at just a 61.5 percent clip (8 of 13) in the first half, the Broncos connected on 13 of 17 free throws in the second, including 10 of 13 in the fourth quarter and 8 of 10 in the final 2:04.

"That's big," Witmer said. "That's what you have to do. When you have the lead and a big possession at the end of the game, they're going to foul you, and you have to hit your free throws."

The other big key for Brookwood was their balance, with Thomas Higginbotham (16 points) and Lavon Hooks (13 points, five rebounds) joining Bolden in double figures, and nine different players scoring.

"That's what we wanted to do - distribute the ball and get a lot of people involved," Witmer said. "It was nice to see some of the fundamentals we worked on in practice carry over in to the game."

That is something Berkmar coach Tommy McWhorter says his team will work on before the rematch with Brookwood next week, especially handling the ball.

While the Patriots committed only 10 turnovers, five of them came down the stretch in the fourth quarter while they were trying to play catch up.

"To be honest, we just didn't play smart," McWhorter said. "We had turnovers, we didn't box out a couple times on the boards - just basketball fundamentals.

"I don't know yet what we'll do differently, but we're 0-2 against (Brookwood) this season. It would be nice to steal the third one."

Berkmar girls 58, Brookwood 44

The No. 3 Patriots (22-3, 15-1) outscored the Broncos 27-9 in the fourth quarter to claim a share of Region 8-AAAAA regular season title with second-ranked Parkview. A coin flip to determine the No. 1 seed for the region tournament will be held this morning.

Mariah Richardson scored a game-high 13 points, while Tyra Smith and Gabby Harvey added 11 each. Katie Mallow scored 11 to lead Brookwood (13-13, 8-8).