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The Pod rules as Dolphins clinch conference championship over Columbia

Dolphins Coach David Allewalt hoists the conference championship trophy after the victorious team arrived back home early Saturday morning. Photo by Richard Taylor

By Richard Taylor

Using characteristic fast break play, tenacious defense and clutch free-throws from Colby and Perry Austin, the Ocracoke Dolphins varsity boys’ basketball team overcame Columbia’s home-court advantage Friday night and brought the Atlantic 6 1A Conference Championship trophy back to the island. 

The Dolphins defeated the Columbia Wildcats 68-53 in a hard-fought game and remain undefeated in conference play (12-0) and 20-3 overall after beating Columbia for the third time this season.

Although earlier tournament games were played in Creswell, officials moved both varsity girls and boys championship finals to Columbia Friday morning due to HVAC system issues in the host school’s gym.

While the championship game was played in Columbia, the Wildcats were considered the visiting team because of their second-place conference ranking. Thus, the top-ranked Dolphins wore home-team white.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association has yet to announce state pairings and sites, but the Dolphins are likely to earn a first-round bye for playoff games, which begins next week. Several sources indicate first-round games for the Dolphins’ division may be played at home in “the Tank.”

Led by senior team captain Liam Caswell who scored 28 points, the Dolphins never trailed in Friday night’s game, although Columbia outscored Ocracoke 16-10 in the final period and at one point came within 9 points. Several Dolphins were charged with offensive fouls as they drove toward the basket in the second half.

It was a strong  team  effort with  eight players making scores, Kalai Samick hit double figures with 10 points. The Dolphins made six 3-pointers out of 12 attempts, including two by Caswell and Mason Fuller.  Strong foul shooting with the Dolphins making 20 out of 24 attempts contributed to the victory.  Defensively, Perry Austin snagged 13 of the team’s 42 rebounds. 

The Dolphins had been concerned about Columbia’s top scorers, Nasseim Basnight and Nick Norman who averages 20 points per game, but were able to contain them. Wildcat stats were not available.  Basnight got into foul trouble in the third period, but mostly remained in the game. Both Wildcats missed desperation 3-pointers as Columbia tried in vain to catch up as time ran down in the final period. Caswell and Darvin Contreras also played “keep-away” to burn time off the clock at the end.

Columbia falls to 13-9 overall and 7-5 in the conference.

In the girls division, the Cape Hatteras Hurricanes remained undefeated, beating the Creswell Tigers 53-28 in the championship game that preceded the boys game. 

Ocracoke Athletic Director Charles Temple called last night’s championship game live on WOVV, 90.1 FM and wovv.org . An exuberant Temple could hardly contain his excitement at game’s end. 

“It was a great year for a great bunch of guys,” he said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. They’ve been a treat to watch all season.”

Besides broadcasting the game, Temple did double-duty Friday. He also drove the team bus. As he pulled into the school’s front parking lot just before 1:30 a.m., the sudden “beep, beep, beep” of the bus’s back-up sounder broke the eerie early morning silence.

Minutes before, a longer-than-usual line of cars made the 13.5-mile trek from the South Dock ferry terminal to the village, as some players’ parents also had trekked to Columbia.

With little fanfare, sleepy players — clutching gym bags and backpacks — stepped off the white Hyde County activity bus and headed for parents’ cars.

Finally, Allewalt exited the bus, cracking a grin as he hoisted the handsome conference championship trophy over his right shoulder.

It was a good night in Dolphin land.