MARSHVILLE — Because of the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, the Forest Hills boys basketball team opted to open their 2021 season by hosting senior night for two of its veteran players.
Senior nights are generally held during a team’s last home game of the season, but head coach Matt Sides decided to move the ceremony up in case there are any late-season cancellations. While the atmosphere inside FH’s gym Tuesday night was quieter than normal without fans, the Yellow Jackets were still able to channel their energy into a 61-58 overtime win over Salisbury.
“The best part about it was that we got to be together and play, even under adverse circumstances with a limited crowd and playing with masks on,” Sides said. “It was great to be able to be together and compete as a team … I was a little bit emotional that we had a chance to play, because there were moments throughout this whole fall that I wasn’t sure we were going to have the season or not.”
Forest Hills exploded out of the gate, racing off to a 17-4 lead after one quarter thanks to sophomore forward Zack Barbour, who tallied six of his team-high 19 points in the first quarter. Listed as one of the Yellow Jackets’ tallest players at 6-foot-4, Barbour took control of the game in the post and earned a new career-high. He also had eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
The Yellow Jackets only have two seniors this season — guard Mashad Hester and forward Jamylan Blakeney.
Blakeney returned to Marshville in August after spending last season at Combine Academy in Lincolnton. The 6-foot-7 forward last played under Sides in 2018-19, when he averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and helped the Yellow Jackets reach the 2A state title game before falling to Farmville Central.
Blakeney was a freshman starter on the Jackets’ 2018 2A state championship team.
Blakeney had seven points on 3-of-8 shooting to go with three rebounds and two blocks.
“He’s brought a lot to our team from an offensive standpoint, but he’s brought even more from a leadership perspective,” Sides said. “Jamylan’s always been a very intense and vocal guy. He’s vocal with his teammates, but he also leads by example with how hard he plays. The guys have taken to him and his teammates voted him as a captain, so that shows that he’s got respect from his teammates, and he’s definitely an emotional leader for us.”
After trailing, 27-21, at halftime, Salisbury stormed back in the second half and ultimately tied the game at 54-54 with 1:33 left in the game. Somehow, neither team scored the rest of regulation, setting up the overtime period that saw the Yellow Jackets pull away on free throws. The biggest makes of the night came from sophomore Ty Burch, who sank both of his attempts with 11.4 seconds left to give Forest Hills a 60-57 lead.
Burch — The Enquirer-Journal’s 2019-20 Union County freshman of the year — had 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while leading the Jackets’ offense from the point guard position.
“He’s been great,” Sides said of Burch. “Every team is different, and we’re still finding our way as a team and learning to trust one another, but Ty’s done a great job. He has unreal court vision and just a great feel for the game. He led us with seven assists last night and did that while dealing with a Salisbury team that always plays us tough.”
Tuesday was the fourth time Forest Hills has played Salisbury over the past five seasons. The Yellow Jackets have won all four meetings, but the biggest margin of victory in any win has been just four points. Last season, Forest Hills knocked out Salisbury, 60-59, in the second round of the 2A state playoffs.