GRC wins inaugural WinCity Holiday Classic

Published 9:17 am Saturday, December 23, 2023

After what has been a challenging week for many students at George Rogers Clark High School following the sudden passing of one of their classmates, the GRC boys basketball faced the mountain of playing two games in the first-ever WinCity Holiday Classic.

Demonstrating resilience, the Cards continued their winning ways.

GRC defeated Lafayette (3-8) 60-47 on Wednesday, Dec. 20th, and Rowan County (6-4) 58-53 on Thursday, Dec. 21st, at GRC Arena to win the first-ever WinCity Holiday Classic.

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They overcame double-digit deficits in both matchups to prove victorious.

“I’m just proud of our guys,” said GRC head coach Josh Cook, following the Cards’ championship game victory against Rowan County. “[We] showed some toughness.”

In the first matchup, the Generals (3-8) showed they had come to Winchester with something to prove.

After GRC scored two quick points off the tip by Reshaun Hampton, Lafayette scored 12 unanswered points to take an early 12-2 lead as the Cards offense struggled to find its rhythm.

At the end of the opening quarter, the Cards trailed 17-10.

Early in the second quarter, they would regain some momentum.

After an errant pass resulted in the basketball going over the head of a Lafayette player, Hampton would retrieve the ball in stride and – despite being fouled – connect for a two-point shot and the free throw.

Though the Cards continued establishing their brand of basketball, the Generals wouldn’t go down without a fight – even leading 28-27 at halftime.

To open the second half, it would be the Cards’ defense that wrote the story.

Keeping the Generals off the scoreboard for nearly half of the third period, the Cards would regain the lead and be ahead 41-37 following three quarters.

They outscored their opponent 19-10 in the fourth quarter, with the last two points for Lafayette coming on an uncontested layup.

Except for the 15-point lead before the last basket by the Generals, the 13-point final advantage was the Cards’ most significant lead of the night.

“It’s a good win. We’ve been through a lot this week for our kids and our school,” Cook. “We were able to make some adjustments and cover [their] guys and disrupt that [offense] a little bit to make our job a little easier.”

Reshaun Hampton, named MVP of game 1 of the WinCity Holiday Classic sponsored by Tim Short Automotive, led the Cards with 24 points while forcing several turnovers.

“Defensively, they weren’t stepping [forward] as much, and then for a while they [were]. Once I realized they were going back [near the basket], I thought I could get open shots,” Hampton said. “I just felt like if our team kept executing, we [were] going to be fine.”

Just twenty-four hours later, the Cards faced a similar scenario.

After senior JP Gaines opened the scoring to give the team a 2-0 lead, a 16-0 run by the Vikings put the Cards at a 14-point deficit – their largest of the season to date.

Speaking postgame, Cook was asked what message he delivered to the team.

“Let’s get focused. Try to settle down and get stops…you’re not [going to] get it back in two minutes. [Let’s] just take it possession by possession,” responded.

The Cards, in addition to their confidence, took the message to heart.

They chipped away at the Vikings’ lead, cutting it to four points at halftime.

Still, Rowan County would not go away quickly.

After the Vikings extended their lead to ten, Eli Craig connected on a crucial three-point shot.

It was the beginning of a 13-2 run, which resulted in the Cards gaining just their second lead of the game with one minute left in the third quarter.

Although Rowan County would regain the lead at the end of the quarter following a putback shot by Brayden Minus (15 points) as time expired, the Cards established momentum and held a three-point lead with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

Malachi Ashford, who was sent to the free-throw line, delivered in the clutch by connecting on both free throws for the final 58-53 score.

For scoring ten points, including the critical three-point basket, Craig – who earned significant playing time with typical starter Montez Gay not playing – was named MVP of the latter contest.

“I knew I was [going to] get a few more minutes, but I just wanted to play,” Craig said. “We just focused on what we had to do. We’ve [trailed] before, so we just played how we [needed to] play and came back.”

Rowan County head coach Shawn Thacker spoke highly of his team and the Cards.

“I thought we came in here, knowing that we’re getting better, and we felt confident coming into the game,” Thacker said. “[The Cards] run and jump you, they get you in that half-court trap…they’re so good, and they can go on big runs, so you’ve got to be careful.”

While happy with winning the MVP Award for the Championship Game of the WinCity Holiday Classic, Craig added that basketball could serve multiple purposes.

“Basketball gets my mind off stuff,” he said. “It’s been a rough week, but…it’s good to pull out the win.”