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Hornets take area thriller over Linden

JEFFERSON — The capacity crowd at John Essex Saturday evening seemed to reach nearly unprecedented decibel levels as the Hornets held off a surging Patriot team down the stretch to best Linden 53-51.

The teams combined to score 57 points in the final two quarters after John Essex carried a 14-13 lead into the intermission.

Each team struggled to find it rhythm early as the Patriots led 4-3 at the end of the first period. In the second quarter, the Hornets relied heavily on free throw shooting to take advantage of a foul prone Linden squad.

At one point in the period, Linden head coach Joe Eatmon was not about pointing out to an a passing official that Linden had already absorbed 10 foul calls while the Hornets had drawn only two whistles.

Still, following the game, Eatmon made no excuses about his team’s loss.

“Despite the officiating, we came out and we didn’t play very well,” Eatmon said.

The Patriots continued to cope with foul trouble in the third quarter, but managed to score 17 points in the period despite losing star wingman Kendarius Goodwill to an untimely fifth foul call in the period.

Goodwill exited the game with six points, leaving most of the scoring burden to his teammates.

“Our defense is what won us the game,” John Essex head coach Rodney Dixon said. The Hornets applied pressure to Patriot ball handlers all night and saddled freshman Letrelle Griffin with the task of keeping Goodwill in check.

But, undaunted, Linden made its run in the fourth quarter.

With 45.2 seconds remaining in the game, the Patriots pulled themselves to within striking distance of the hosting Hornets at 50-47.

“Even though we gave up an 11-point lead, those guys showed up,” Dixon said of his team’s defensive play.

The bulk of Linden’s scoring down the stretch came from junior guard Gerald Bruno, who finished with 12 points while providing the Patriots the spark to get back into the game.

“We’re in a situation now where we’ve just got to get better,” Eatmon said of his team, which fell to 0-3 after the loss.

Conversely, Dixon was pleased with his team’s progress.

“Our free throw percentage went up tonight,” Dixon said of a Hornet team that has struggled at the line in the early portion of the season. “It showed me that these guys could be in a playoff game and I’m don’t have to be afraid to put them in a big spot. It makes me feel real good because tonight we played a lot of guys who normally don’t play.”

Griffin led the Hornets with 16 points, including 13 from the free throw line and one key three-pointer from deep that stretched the JEHS lead while momentarily stunting the Linden run.

Zackary Fluker added 11 points for John Essex. Darius Powell finished with a season high 11 points and seven rebounds while A.J. Bennett contributed seven points. Preston Parker snatched down 12 rebounds in the game to lead the JEHS effort.

For the Patriots, Ajalon Bruno finished with 12 points.

John Essex (4-3) travels to Sunshine Thursday before hosting Sweet Water Friday. Linden will visit Sweet Water tonight before hosting A.L. Johnson Saturday.