Central's Purple Pounders knew they would have to get off to a good start Tuesday to have any chance of winning their District 6-AA high school basketball game at Brainerd. But even that didn't help.
It took a while before Brainerd turned up the defensive pressure, but the Panthers eventually did and won 60-49.
Central led 9-3 with the game's first points coming on Dewuan Swafford's 3-pointer, the first of seven for the Pounders.
But Brainerd (4-2, 1-0) closed the first quarter on a 14-3 run, which included 3s by Demetrius Kitchens and Tshombe High. The Panthers countered with six 3s overall.
"I saw a lot of good things," Brainerd coach Robert High said. "We shoot it pretty well. Our problem is we're really low in numbers. I actually don't have but seven varsity people right now. We just need to get healthy."
The Panthers' largest lead of the first half was 31-19. Yet the Pounders showed some fight in battling back within 33-32 within the first two minutes of the second half, getting to that score on consecutive 3-point shots, 35 seconds apart, by Colton Morgan.
Until then the Panthers had shown Central 2-1-2 and 1-3-1 zones. Coach High decided then to go man-to-man.
"When he hit that 3 from the corner I said, 'That's enough of that,'" he said. "I said, 'Let's just go now to the man.' I probably would've started in the man, but like I said, we've only got seven kids. If you're tired, you're not going to perform down the stretch."
After a free throw by Brainerd's Marques Tipton, Central (1-1, 1-1) had the chance to tie with two free throws but Swafford missed both. The Panthers then closed the third quarter on a 12-4 run and went to the fourth leading 46-36.
"It was just a few unforced turnovers that hurt us more than anything," Central coach Rick Rogers said. "When it was 34-32, I think we had three bad passes in a row, they pushed the lead up and we never recovered from it.
"Still, I'm so proud of them. They're learning how to play with these teams. I didn't see any intimidation on their faces."
Kitchens had a 10-point first quarter and led Brainerd with 16. Jeulian High added 12 points.
Swafford led the Pounders with 12 points. Morgan had 11.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.