Carlynton uses fast start to roll over Fort Cherry, stay in thick of section race

Friday, February 5, 2021 | 11:11 PM

On Tuesday, Carlynton was outscored 20-0 by Sto-Rox to start the second half in what turned into a 15-point loss.

On Friday, the Cougars put the drought behind them by raining first-quarter points on visiting Fort Cherry. The early outburst sparked Carlynton to a 62-51 victory in a matchup of two of the top teams in Section 2-2A.

“It’s been a theme over the season, so I can’t say I’m all that surprised,” Carlynton coach Mike Cozy said. “We have been ready to play out of the gate in most games. We’re focused; we play good defense, etc. Then in the second half, we seem to struggle a little bit. It’s something we need to figure out.”

There was no funk in the opening quarter after the Sto-Rox loss as everything clicked for the host Cougars. They drained three 3-pointers over the Fort Cherry zone, hit layups off defensive takeaways and had second-chance putbacks off offensive rebounds to build a 25-6 edge at one point that settled into a 27-12 lead after the first quarter.

The Rangers began to slowly chip away at the big deficit by outscoring the Cougars 11-10 in the second quarter and 15-12 in the third quarter.

A frenzied Fort Cherry start to the fourth quarter cut the lead to six points. After Carlynton built the advantage back to double digits, the Rangers again pulled to within six points with just over two minutes left, but they could never pull closer.

Carlynton was led by Jaiden McClure. The 6-foot-3 sophomore had a game-high 23 points but contributed so much more. On defense, he blocked and altered shots. He also was a beast on both the defensive and offensive glass with key rebounds throughout the night.

“First, he rebounds the ball well, and he’s only going to get stronger as he gets older,” Cozy said. “He alters shots even if he doesn’t block them. It’s tough to shoot with a guy’s hand that high in the air. It’s distracting. He’s a presence, no doubt.”

The Cougars’ leading scorer is also a sophomore. Austin Milliner was a big part of the hot start for Carlynton as he scored 11 of his 12 points in the first half. Junior Khalil Kerr battled foul trouble but still scored 11 points, including a 5-for-6 effort from the free-throw line in the second half.

Scrappy Fort Cherry was led by a junior off the bench. Dylan Rogers scored 14 points for the Rangers while senior Lane Miller scored 10 of his 11 points in the second half.

“Let’s give Fort Cherry some credit,” Cozy said. “Eugene (Briggs) is a heck of a coach, and he’s not going to sit by and just let a team continue to exploit things. He makes adjustments, and he had his boys ready to play as well.”

With the loss, Fort Cherry ends a two-game win streak and falls to 4-3 in the section and 7-4 overall. The Rangers will need to win and get help if they are to earn a share of the section championship.

For a young Carlynton team that only has one senior on the roster and starts three sophomores and two juniors, the win improves their record to 5-1 in the section and 8-2 overall. They are a half-game behind Sto-Rox (6-1, 6-4) and will host the Vikings on Feb. 21.

“We’re a young team that’s still feeling our way on the varsity level,” Cozy said. “My boys are playing hard and they’ve got some skills, but sometimes it’s a matter of 15-year olds playing a bunch of 18-year olds. That experience matter.”

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