By Steven J. Gaither
RALEIGH – Both Sanderson and Wakefield have used defense to win games this season. So it came as no surprise that their first meeting of the season went down to the final minutes as visiting Wakefield escaped with a 47-44 victory.
Leading 44-37 with less than two minutes remaining, Wakefield seemed to have the game wrapped up.
The lead quickly closed as Sanderson’s Parker Fennema scored five quick points to cut Wakefield’s lead to just one.
Wakefield (5-0, 1-0 Cap Eight 4-A) though hit two of four free-throws in the final minute to create the three-point margin. Sanderson inbounded the ball with six seconds remaining, but the Spartans were unable to get off the 3-pointer they needed as Wakefield’s defense smothered Gloire Biongo.
After the game, Wakefield coach Dexter Cooley said he was pleased with his team’s performance in crunch time.
“I told them if we won, we were going to win on the defensive end,” Cooley said. “We wanted to play good defense without fouling. We wanted to make everything difficult.”
Although Fennema didn’t get the ball at the end, he finished with a game-high 18 points.
“He’s our leading scorer and he brings a lot of intensity,” Sanderson coach Mike Shaw said. “When the game is on the line, he kind of takes it personal.”
Shaw said he was hoping his team would be able to come up with a shot off a dribble handoff. He also said that despite starting three sophomores, his team was not foreign to the situation of taking last-second shots.
“We practice situations like that every day at the end of practice,” Shaw said. “They were relaxed and not nervous.”
Sanderson (4-3, 0-1) held a 21-20 lead at halftime as both teams struggled with turnovers. Despite his team’s undefeated record, it’s a problem that Cooley is familiar with.
“We haven’t been handling the ball well, and we have to give credit to Sanderson on defense,” he said. “We were taking some pretty erratic shots in the first half. In the second half, we settled down and went inside more.”
Jalin Barnes led Wakefield with 12 points. Andrew Burress finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Defense has been Sanderson’s strong point all year, but Shaw knows the offense is still a work in progress. He hopes the loss helps his Spartans the next time they find themselves in a close game.
“Hopefully, we’ll learn how to finish games,” Shaw said. “Our defense has gotten better. Sometimes we struggle to score and that’s what we have to work on. We’ve got a lot of young kids.”