By Michael Rich
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
That’s how Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities … and he could have written the same line about the Delaware Hayes boys basketball team’s 55-46 loss at Walnut Ridge in the first round of the Division I district tournament Saturday afternoon in Columbus.
“They did a good job of pressuring us into mistakes in the second half, and I thought in the first half we really handled it well,” Pacers coach Jordan Blackburn said. “It was just kind of a tale of two halves.”
The Pacers raced out to a 36-19 lead at halftime before Walnut Ridge’s pressure defense sparked a 36-10 second-half rally.
Zach McIntire had a double-double in his final game at Hayes with 19 points and 10 rebounds — both game-highs. Will Yoakum was solid as well, pouring in 16 points, and Jake Bourget had four assists in his final game.
“Jake and Zach have meant the world to me,” Blackburn said. “They made Hayes a better place as a school and I thought they made our basketball program better.”
Hayes opened 6-0 on a put-back by Derrick Buford and baskets by Terin Kinsway and McIntire.
McIntire hit a pair of threes and Yoakum added a third as the Pacers (9-14) extended the lead to 20-8 with 50 seconds left in the first before the Scots closed to 20-10 at the end of one.
Yoakum had a steal that led to his own layup and Kinsway found Bourget for three to spark a 9-2 start to the second, giving the Pacers a 29-12 lead with 3:58 remaining in the half.
Later, McIntire found Yoakum underneath for a layup and then he finished the three-point play with a free throw to give the Pacers a 36-16 lead with 1:05 left in the half.
“We did a good job of going back door and getting some openings because we thought they made some mistakes defensively,” Blackburn said. “We got a lot of those (in the first half).”
It was the best of times.
“If you’re doing your job as a coach, your team should be playing its best at the end of the season,” Blackburn said. “The first half (Saturday) was the best we played all season.”
Tarik Wright found Nick Reissland on the left wing for three with 57 seconds left in the half to allow the Scots to close out the period trailing 36-19.
The Pacers had 11 assists on 15 made baskets in the first half.
Kalib Younger and Darnei Hairston each had steals, which led to baskets — the latter a three-point play by Azende Johnson to make it 36-24 less than a minute into the second half.
Yoakum’s two baskets pushed the Hayes lead to 40-24 before Darrius McLean and Johnson each hit threes on consecutive possessions for the Scots (17-6) to spark a 16-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters.
Malik Harrison’s put-back tied it with 5:55 remaining. He found McLean for a basket to give the Scots their first lead at 46-44 with 2:48 left in the game.
It was the worst of times.
Walnut Ridge closed 9-2 for the final margin.
Harrison led the Scots with 16 points, Johnson finished with 15 points and Wright had eight rebounds and four assists.
Hayes had its share of disappointing losses this season. The Pacers were 4-9 in games in which they led in the fourth quarter.
“We have a six-man rotation — even if you’re in really good shape, we have a lot of guys playing close to 32 minutes,” Blackburn said. “That’s what our analytics tell us to do.”
Still, it was a better season than Blackburn anticipated he’d have walking off the floor after the district final game last season.
“We told them last March after the district final that if nobody improves, we were looking at probably a two- or three-win team,” Blackburn said. “A lot of them improved quite a bit.”
Walnut Ridge advances to the second round and will host Marion Harding Friday night at 7 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.