Tornadoes 4-peat, beat St. Stephens

Two is always better than one.

Such was the case Thursday night when No. 2 Hickory Red Tornadoes topped No. 1 St. Stephens Indians, 61-43, at Catawba Valley Community College. The win gave Hickory its fourth straight Catawba Valley Classic tournament title.

"We got a group of guys that really just like being around one another, and they play well together," said Hickory head coach Shawn Johnson. "We were lucky to make a run early on such a great basketball team as St. Stephens."

The two teams went back-and-forth in the opening minutes of the game until Hickory sparked a 14-4 run to close the opening quarter with a 20-9 lead. The Indians fought back in the second quarter and cut the lead to six points before the Red Tornadoes went on a 12-2 scoring run and almost put the game away at halftime, 34-18.

Hickory advanced to the championship game with a double-overtime win past Alexander Central the night before. Many of the players, as well as Johnson, admitted that they came out with more intensity to face the Indians.

"We just weren't clicking last night," Johnson said. "But we came out tonight and showed that we have it in us to come together and make a run."

St. Stephens matched Hickory's intensity in the second half, but the halftime lead proved to be too much to overcome for the Indians. St. Stephens' offense managed to score 12 points in the third quarter and 13 points in the fourth, but Hickory managed to win the championship.

"We played hard the whole game," said Hickory's Drew Hilton. "We all felt like we didn't come out last night and play our hardest, so we wanted to make sure we came out with the right intensity tonight."

The Indians placed two players on the All-Tournament team — seniors Harrison Bowne and Aaron Grier— while the Red Tornadoes had three players — Hilton, Jalen Byrd and Denzel Dillingham, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Bowne led all players with 17 points on the night, and Grier added another seven points for St. Stephens. Hilton led Hickory in scoring, finishing with 14 points, and Dillingham added 12 points for Hickory.

Johnson said defense was an intrical part of the Tornadoes victory.

"When we come out and truly sit down on defense — helping each other and communicating, it carries over to the offensive side everytime," Johnson said. "We preach it and preach it, and you can tell when it's about to happen (in a game). Our guys did a great job of that tonight."