Doherty has a knack for playing in close games. And winning them, too.
Pine Creek was its latest victim Tuesday as Shane Fox poured in a game-high 26 points to pace three scorers in double figures. The Spartans held off the Eagles, 59-54, in the 5A Metro League opener for both teams.
Doherty (10-4) has won six straight, five by seven points or fewer. After a topsy-turvy 3-3 start in which it won a game by 28 and lost another by 24, the Spartans have found a way to put teams away late and not fold under the pressure.
On Tuesday, Nelson Keith’s short jumper with 5:35 remaining broke a 43-all game and gave host Doherty the lead for good. It held the Eagles (5-9) without a field goal for a critical span of 2:10 late in the game.
“Games like these make you mentally tough,” said Keith, who had 13 points. “You have to keep grinding on defense. It helps you in the long run. We’ve had a lot of these types of games, so this one helps a lot.”
With 2:25 left, Keith’s layup after an offensive rebounded expanded the Spartans’ lead to 55-46, their largest of the night. Meanwhile, Pine Creek made only two outside shots in the fourth quarter, one of them a desperation 3-pointer in the waning seconds.
“We’re really to that point to where we don’t feel like we’re getting beaten by teams as much as we’re beating ourselves by the mistakes we’re making,” Eagles coach Duke Stewart said. “We did some good things in this game, and some bad things. Moving forward, I expect these boys to continue to fight.”
Jase Hamstad, who led the Eagles with 18 points, tied the game at 29 with a 3-pointer from the right corner just seconds into the second half. Pine Creek, however, couldn’t keep it going, failing to hit a shot that could have turned the tide.
The Eagles then found themselves down by five midway through the quarter, only to trim that deficit to 43-41 heading into the final eight minutes.
Rhett Lopez, who scored 16 points, opened the fourth quarter with two free throws that tied the game at 43. But again, the Eagles failed to seize the momentum, unable to wrestle the lead from the Spartans.
“We had some bad turnovers, some bad possessions and missed shots,” Hamstad said. “There were so many moments in the fourth quarter where we could have gotten the momentum. There were a lot of shots we could have hit, and we hurt ourselves more than anything.”
Doherty used just seven players for the majority of the game, and both of its 6-foot-5 forwards, Eli Peterson and Keith, found themselves in foul trouble in the second half. Peterson eventually fouled out with 10 points with 4:11 left, while Keith managed to stay clear of his fifth foul.
“I’m always aggressive on the court, but you’ve got to know to play smart to limit fouls,” Fox said. “I think we’ve found our identity as a defensive team. It was an ugly win, but it’s a win, and we’ll go back to practice and get better.”