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Ninth-ranked Hillcrest hold off Blue Eagles comeback

By By SCOTT COOPER – Sports Writer
The state's ninth-ranked Class 4A team, the Hillcrest Jaguars, traveled from Evergreen to meet the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles in a Jan. 18 game that was not decided until late in the fourth quarter.
Hillcrest (16-4) led from the opening tip, but was unable to shake free of the Blue Eagles' intense team effort that was displayed over the course of the game.
Trailing by 11 points at halftime, Neal cut the Jaguars' lead down to eight by the end of the third period before further reducing the deficit to five midway through the fourth quarter. But, Hillcrest regrouped in the final minutes of the contest and did what was necessary to escape with the victory.
Hillcrest began the game patiently working the ball inside and held a 4-1 lead before Keith Woods' basket from inside the paint pulled Neal within a point, 4-3. After the Jaguars went on a 5-0 run to up their lead to 9-3, Woods again scored a basket to cut the advantage to 9-5 with 2:30 to go in the first period. With the Blue Eagles unable to capitalize on some good looks from in close, the Jaguars proceeded on a 5-2 run that put them out front, 14-7, as the buzzer sounded to end the opening quarter.
While the Blue Eagles became stingier with their inside defense, Hillcrest resorted to the long ball in the second quarter. Although Neal got a determined offensive effort from Woods, Chris Johnson, Nick Benjamin and J.J. Pitts, the Jaguars could do no wrong from behind the 3-point arc. Four 3-pointers in the period proved to be difficult for the Blue Eagles to answer and led to a 30-19 Hillcrest advantage at intermission.
With a scrappy defensive effort accented by physical inside play, the Blue Eagles controlled the action as they mounted a third-period comeback. Trailing 37-25 with 5:33 remaining in the period, Neal got a basket from Woods and a 3-pointer from Marcus Folmar to reduce the lead down to seven, 37-30.
Following a basket by Hillcrest, Pitts hit a jumper before Woods scored from underneath to further reduce the lead to four, 39-34, with 1:40 remaining. Hillcrest then turned back the rally with a couple of 3-pointers that kept them out front, 45-36, heading to the fourth quarter.
Most of the action in the final period took place inside the paint. Each shot from in close was fiercely contested, resulting in a quarter marked by trips to the foul line.
A Woods' basket pulled Neal within five, 47-42, with 5:51 left in the contest, but Hillcrest pulled away in the closing minutes. Going on an 11-4 run the remainder of the game, the Jaguars kept the Blue Eagles at bay as they polished off a 12-point win.
Keith Woods scored 20 points to lead the Blue Eagles' offense.