Crowley — The mighty Italy Gladiators (18-8, 7-1) guided by first-year head coach David Ervin were beaming with confidence going into Tuesday night’s bi-district matchup against the Valley View Eagles.
Italy point guard Kevin Johnson was a freshman back in 2014 when Italy last defeated Valley View for the bi-district championship which was also Italy’s last playoff win. Johnson, now a junior, was ready to lead the Gladiators to victory over the Eagles once again with Keith Davis II, Kendrick Norwood and Ryan Connor able to help jump start the offense. With a scrappy Jeremiah Thompson and center Christian Lightfoot solidifying the defense, and with Kenneth Norwood providing an offensive punch and defensive savvy, the Gladiators had the weapons they needed.
Italy led 10-9 early but Valley View scored five straight points to go up 14-10. Italy fans were soon reassured, however, thanks to a buzzer-beater three-pointer by Kevin Johnson to pull Italy within one of the Eagles, 14-13, to end the first-period.
The score was tied 22-22 with 2:49 left in the first-half when Davis hit another Italy three-pointer over an outstretched Eagle defender to nudge the Gladiators ahead, 25-22. Valley View quickly clawed their way back into the lead 26-25 before Davis was fouled on a drive to the hoop, resulting in a pair of made free-throws. Italy retook the lead, 27-26. One last made three-pointer by Kevin Johnson and Italy led 30-26 at the break.
With the score already 30-29 in just one minute back from halftime, Ryan Connor nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key to push Italy’s lead back to four, 33-29, with 6:29 to play in the third.
A three-point dagger from Davis, a steal and a fast-break layup by Johnson, and Italy extended their advantage 38-31.
As the second-half continued, it seemed whomever shot the ball was going to score. Everything was falling in for both sides. Layups by Davis and Johnson gave Italy a 44-35 cushion. Valley View responded with a three-pointer to keep things interesting at 44-38.
With 0:20 left in the third, Kendrick Norwood made good on a pair of freebies from the stripe, and Italy led 48-42. With every shot finding the bottom of the net, Kendrick Norwood’s casually played 31-footer to close out the third was no different as it swished clean thru. The crowd rousing shot gave Italy a 51-42 lead and all the momentum going into the fourth.
Italy and Crowley traded baskets into the fourth-period but a steal and a layup by Connor gave Italy a 59-48 lead with 4:53 remaining. Italy was out and running from that point on and outmatched Valley View for the 67-56 Class 2A Region 2 Bi-District win.
Davis finished with a game-high 24-points including 3 three-pointers and Johnson put in 21-points with 2 three-pointers. Along with that moment defining three bomb to end the third, Kendrick Norwood was also a perfect 4-out-of-4 from the free-throw line for a total of 7-points in the contest. Connor totaled 5-points, Kenneth Norwood scored 4 high energy points and Christian Lightfoot scored 2-points while being active on the boards all game.
The Italy Gladiators will be taking on the Petrolia Pirates in the Area Round this Friday night in Mineral Wells starting at 7:15 p.m. Italy will be the visiting team. $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for students.
A Fan Bus will be available if over 20 people signup. The Fan Bus will be leaving the dome at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. If interested contact Kelli Ballard at (972) 483-7411 before 4:00 p.m. Thursday….that’s Today!
Gladiator Scoring vs. Dallas Gateway:
|David De La Hoya|