A group that has played together for over six years walked off the court Thursday as state champions in one of the final games of their high school careers, as Ingomar defeated McAdams 72-60.
Legendary head coach Norris Ashley said at the beginning of the year that if there was ever a time that Ingomar could win the title, it would be this year; given the talent he was suiting up. With five seniors and juniors, the Falcons played one of their best games both mentally and physically, although it was tough in the first quarter.
Each squad shot lights out from beyond the arc with Ingomar leading 15-13 after the first quarter. Both Ingomar and McAdams combined for six three pointers, and while Falcons were having problems going to their main weapon down low in Zach Carnell, it was Clay Kidd that stepped up to pace Ingomar in the first half.
“They started zoning in on Zach, and he’s our force inside. That opened Clay up and he shot some tremendous three’s, then Matt hit one and it opened things up,” Ashley said. “Their zone should have been packed down, but it was spread out more, and that changed the complexion of the game. Clay’s points probably set their strategy back threefold because they didn’t know what to do then.”
Kidd led the Ingomar scoring attack at the break with 13 points off 3-for-6 shooting from three-point range.
“As a senior, it gives you the urge to win, knowing it’s your last year. I came out, knew what I had to do and did it,” Kidd said.
Matt Purvis paced a 9-0 run in the third as the Falcons led by as many as 13, but as they watched in the Bulldogs’ semifinal match-up against Myrtle, McAdams quickly responded, led by Patrick Lewis, to make it only a five-point game late in the frame.
“Myrtle showed the path of what we had to do, and I told my guys we had to go out there and act like we were down five or seven points, give up nothing and don’t let anything be easy,” Ashley said. “We were hoping they would miss some of those shots, but there were some that probably should have been fours or fives because they were so far out.”
A triple by Lewis at the beginning of the fourth made it a 45-41 game and despite his eight fourth quarter points, the Falcons kept going inside to Zach Carnell, who posted 13 points in the final eight minutes. The desire and work that Ashley saw down the stretch is what he has become accustomed to throughout this season.
“These young men did more than I asked of them. They not only went the extra mile, they went the extra five miles, and they’ve turned into one of the best teams Ingomar has ever had as far as teamwork. Others have had more ability, but this team had more drive and dedication.”
Carnell finished with 26 points to lead Ingomar, while Purvis added 20 and Kidd 16 points. Purvis and Carnell were also named to the All-Tournament team, along with Myrtle’s Jimel Judon, and Purvis was named the player of the game, as well as the scholar athlete.
“This is what we’ve all dreamed up, to suit up and play for Coach Ashley and win a championship,” Purvis said. “For us seniors, we knew this was it and if we’re out, we’re out. This is what we’ve practiced for, all the sweat. It’s worth it.”
A remarkable end
As Ingomar watched the final seconds tick off of their remarkable championship run, all eyes quickly turned to the coach who has been on the sidelines of Ingomar for 39 years, 41 years total. Amid rumors of his possible retirement, Ashley looks to not answer that question, but rather focus on the Falcons’ run in next week’s Grand Slam Tournament.
“Right now I’m pulling a Brett Favre and dodging that issue,” Ashley laughed. “I’ll probably look at it a few weeks from now. I can relate to Favre because when you get old you wonder if you want to do it again or not. We have to come back and play next week, so we still have a season left.”
Ashley has now coached Ingomar to nine state championships, five on the boy’s side. When asked about this team’s place in Ingomar history, the 62 year-old coach used one of his unique quotes to describe the 2009 Falcons.
“It’s like having kids, each one has its own characteristics, it’s own joys and satisfactions out of it. This one is almost like the unexpected child that pops up when you weren’t expecting anymore and you’re more appreciative when it happens,” Ashley said.
The community has longed for another title since the boys last won in 2002, and the fans stayed well after the win to take in the moment.
“It means a lot. You can look around and see just about the entire community is here, and they’re fabulous fans,” Kidd said. “We were supposed to be the underdogs today, but it turned out in our favor.”
Ashley best described the scene as he watched his team pass around the trophy and celebrate with fans.
“It’s a trip I will never forget. I still can’t believe it almost, you have to pinch me and see if I’m awake or not. I’m simply amazed at the outcome, and we’re very grateful.”