The Wheeler Wildcats kept their season alive last night (2/26/20) by downing the Berkmar Patriots at Wildcat Arena. The win moves the Cats into the Final Four round for a tough matchup against the #2 team in the state, the Milton Eagles.
Wildcat Nation showed up big-time to cheer on the team. At least 2000 fans were on-hand making home-team noise. Both teams were region champions and both were on win streaks: Wheeler with 4 and Berkmar with 9. And with a semifinal trip to Buford on the line, both were ready for a showdown.
The first half was low-scoring, with each team playing conservative and waiting for the other to make a move. The Cats had a 4-point lead after one quarter and an 11-point lead going into halftime. Head Coach Larry Thompson was encouraged by the score. “Our game-plan is to guard,” he said. “We know they are a good offensive team and if we can keep them under 50 points, we have a chance to win.”
The Patriots came out with a renewed offensive plan in the third, outscoring the Wildcats 14-8 and closing out the third quarter down by only 5 points, 36-41. The first points in the fourth quarter—an inbound jam by Ja’Hiem Hudson—really woke up the crowd and the team. The Wildcats got back to Coach Thompson’s guarding plan the rest of the quarter and never looked back.
With less than three minutes to go and a 10-point lead, Coach Thompson called a timeout. Looking at the crowd he raised his arms and yelled “Let’s go!” The decibel-level in the arena went through the roof as all fans jumped to their feet. An immediate bucket after the time-out removed all doubt that the game belonged to the Cats.
Wheeler outscored Berkmar 7-12 in the fourth quarter and took a ten-point victory to the house, 43-53. Points leader for the Wildcats was Sam Hines, Jr. with 15, followed closely by Ja-Hiem Hudson with 14.
“We gave them a big run in the third quarter,” Coach Thompson said, “because our guys got a little tired. But we dialed back in and regained our composure and got back to the game-plan. This allowed us to build up the lead again and now we’re headed to the Final Four. It feels amazing.”
Wheeler will play Milton at the Buford City Arena on Saturday, Feb 29 in the semifinal round of the 7A state tournament. The game is at 4 PM. Make plans to be there and cheer on the Cats as they pursue a state championship. Go Cats!