HARKER HEIGHTS — The want was evident in the sweat that drenched their coach’s shirt and tie.
Having lost twice to Harker Heights each of the past two years, the senior-laden Ellison Eagles refused to let it go on another second longer.
Following a furious third quarter charge, the Knights tied it 13 seconds into the final frame, 37-37, on the heels of a 3-pointer by Cody Halvorson for the game’s first tie since the end of the first.
It was at this point, Ellison junior post Ronnie Edwards got a little hungry.
“I needed to eat right now, (and I was) eating up a storm,” Edwards said of his mindset.
Edwards hit on back-to-back-to-back layups, the last coming on a dish from senior Ojai Black, to put the Eagles ahead 43-39 with 4:55 left en route to a stirring 50-44 win over preseason district favorite Harker Heights in the 8-5A opener Tuesday evening.
“It’s a rivalry (game), and it’s making a statement that we’re here to stay,” said the 6-foot-4 Edwards, who registered his career-first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Added Ellison coach Alberto Jones: “Ronnie played about 7-foot today, I told his dad he became a man tonight.”
Highlighted by Edwards’ strong play inside, Ellison out-rebounded a taller Heights squad 31-21, including the 12 from Edwards, who out-battled 6-6 posts Andre Hughes and Celneque Bobbitt II on the defensive boards alone with seven. Bobbitt II and Hughes led Heights with six rebounds apiece.
“It’s basically about just wanting it. I decided I was going to keep them off the boards, it’s as simple as that,” Edwards said.
Beginning with a scoop-and-score layup by Black 27 seconds into the second quarter, Ellison (14-4, 1-0 8-5) rolled up a 15-4 outburst to pull ahead 23-12 at halftime as Heights shot a miserable 1-of-7 from the field in the second and just 3 of 18 in the first half.
“I thought we were the most scared team in the nation (tonight),” Knights coach Celneque Bobbitt said.
Added Jones: “I thought our defense set the tempo. We had some timely offense, but I thought our defense gave us a chance in that first half.”
Heights (10-5, 0-1) came out of the locker room after halftime a different team, pulling within 31-27 on a 15-7 run through the first 5:18 of the third quarter. A pullup jumper by Josh Delaney was followed with a deep 3-pointer by twin Cameron Delaney to make it 33-32 with 1:22 to play in the frame, but Edwards pulled down a pair of rebounds on the ensuing Ellison possession, including one that resulted in a putback on a baseline miss by senior Malik Hawkins and then Black sunk a driving raindrop over the head of Cameron Delaney with six seconds left for a 37-34 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“It’s mental toughness,” Hawkins said. “Coach Jones always talks about being mentally tough, and when the going gets bad, we’ve got to get up, gut it out and be strong (mentally).”
Black also had 13 points for the Eagles, to go along with five assists and three steals, and Hawkins added 12 points and six rebounds, including five points in the pivotal second quarter surge.
Heights was led 13 points from sophomore post Bobbitt II, while juniors Cameron Delaney, Cody Halvorson and Josh Delaney added 9, 9 and 8 points, respectively.
“My bigs aren’t performing, ... but if a sophomore has to lead us in scoring, we’re not going to win,” Bobbitt said.