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Senior Warrior forward makes three big free throws, snatches a steal down the stretch

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior Caleb Turner came up big in the second half for the Warriors, who beat Southridge on Friday.

When it mattered most, with his team desperately trying to finish off its first Metro League win of the year, Aloha's Timmy Dennis answered the bell and then some.

With the Warriors leading Southridge 57-55 with 19.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Dennis made two free throws to extend Aloha's advantage to 59-55. Then, as the Skyhawks scrambled to get off a quick hoop, Dennis knocked the ball free and ran it down to the other end of the floor as time expired to ice the 59-55 victory on Friday at Aloha High School.

"I just had to settle down and go back to my routine like it's a practice," Dennis said. "I know I can make them, and I trust myself. I just had to settle down. We're close to being at the top (of Metro). Once we put together a full 32 (minutes), I feel like we're capable of beating any team in the state."

"We all believe in each other and we feel like we can be the best team we can be," Aloha senior Regan Wilson said.

Dennis' two-way clutchness down the home stretch punctuated what was a wild back-and-forth fourth quarter between the two Metro schools. Southridge trailed by as much 17 in the first half and eight in the fourth quarter but scrapped back into the contest with hard-fought defense and determined drives to the rim offensively.

Southridge junior Brett Hanna scored six straight points at one point in the fourth, including a sweet inside pivot spin that gave the Skyhawks their first lead of the game at 53-51 with just over two minutes to go.

"We showed everyone we can really play when we play together," Southridge junior post Cedric Barnes said. "We kept thinking 'Man, we're finally here, we can finally get it'. We just have to fight and show everyone that we're dogs."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge junior post Cedric Barnes tries to get a shot over Aloha senior Regan Wilson.

Yet, Dennis' tough turnaround jumper tied the game at 53-53 with less than two minutes to go.

Then, the game went wacky.

Hanna, trying to battle with Dennis for an offensive board on the next possession, was called for an over-the-back foul. The Southridge coaching staff didn't agree with the infraction and vocally expressed that opinion to the referees who didn't exactly take kindly to the missive. The head referee assessed the Skyhawk bench with a technical foul, which sent Dennis to the line for four three throws, (the tech, plus the two common foul free throws). The Warrior senior made just one of the four to reclaim a 54-53 lead. Yet, because of the technical, Aloha retained possession of the basketball, burned about 35 seconds off the clock and eventually reversed the ball to Caleb Turner who carved inside the key for a slick lefty layup to make it 56-53 with 55 seconds left.

"Caleb was really good about being patient and not letting the crowd and the game speed him up," Wilson said.

The tech was a questionable offense at best on the ref's behalf but there's no doubt it helped stem the tide for Aloha. Southridge swung the game's energy in the fourth, turning the Warriors over with pressure, getting great looks offensively with Hanna and Layne Stricker carrying the load. The Skyhawks' confidence was contagious. Their first win was within striking distance. But with one call, the game's vibe flipped.

"That was a big momentum switch that changed the whole game," Dennis said.

"We're always complaining about the refs," Barnes said. "Next time we just have to put the game in our hands and not the refs' hands and just look forward."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior Timmy Dennis tries to tip away an offensive board against Southridge.

Aloha strong-armed Southridge into a turnover on the next trip down the floor and Warrior sophomore Anthony Gayhart made one of two at the charity stripe to make it 57-53. Southridge junior Jha-Barrie Portis got a layup to go to bring Southridge within 57-55, but Dennis' cool in the clutch put any hope of a Skyhawk comeback on ice.

Southridge, winless on the season, played with a sense of desperation in the second half. Down 32-21 at the half, the Skyhawks went on an 8-0 run to start the third quarter with a three from Barnes and strong drives from Portis and Sean Pak to pull within 32-29.

"We knew at the end of the day, we're on that court and we got each other," Barnes said. "So, it's always going to be us. (Portis) had a couple of good attacks, so did Hanna. (Pak) had that nice turnaround. Those were great opportunities to get us started and get us going, get us in rhythm."

After it looked like Aloha was going to run away with a huge win, Southridge stayed in the fight. The Warriors clicked on all cylinders in the first half. Gayhart was a problem off the dribble, using his powerful southpaw game to get into the lane. Wilson was a force defensively and out in transition. At one point toward the end of the third quarter, Wilson picked Portis' pocket, took two-left-handed dribbles and left off a one-legged three that rolled around the rim and dropped to give Aloha a four-point lead heading into the fourth.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior Regan Wilson made a big three-pointer to end the third quarter against Southridge.

Turner ran the show at the point, making sure the offense flowed. Dennis did damage inside and outside as Aloha unselfishly shuttled the ball around Southridge's varying defenses and pressurized the Skyhawks both in the half court and full court situations. Frustrating, fitful starts have plagued the Skyhawks all season. For whatever reason, they come out of the gate sluggish and fall into deep deficits. But in Metro, they've clawed out of trouble, erasing large debts with enthused energy and better execution on both ends.

"No team in Metro wants to play us because we fight and fight and come back," Barnes said. "It's the little things that we need to work on. We're not afraid. We get down, but we're going to get our heads up and fight until the last second. We can build from every game. We're going to come out strong next game (against Beaverton) and get a win."

Seven of Southridge's losses have occurred by 10 points or less. That elusive first victory under new head coach Scott Entinger is coming, so long as the Skyhawks keep that combative psyche.

"I don't think their record shows who they really are," Dennis said of Southridge. "They've had a tough schedule. But they don't stop playing. They gave us a good run. Good thing we came out ready to play because we might have underestimated them a little bit."

"Southridge goes hard every minute, every possession," Wilson said. "They don't stop until that buzzer goes off, so respect to them for playing hard."

Aloha is now 10-7 overall and 1-4 in Metro with its next contest at home against Mountainside on Tuesday. Southridge hosts crosstown rival Beaverton on Tuesday for "Cram the Cage". Dennis led the Warriors with 18 points while Hanna had 12 for Southridge. Turner added 10 for Aloha.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior Regan Wilson made a big three-pointer to end the third quarter against Southridge.

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