It was a heavyweight fight the likes of which the classic rivalry has rarely seen: Rapid City Central ranked No. 1 and Rapid City Stevens rated No. 2 in the South Dakota Prep Media Class AA boys' basketball poll.

The event lived up to its billing, and the home team came out on top in front of a packed house at Carold Heier Gymnasium.

Behind 17 points from Connor King, the Raiders held off the Cobblers 57-53.

"Wow, that was quite the atmosphere," Stevens coach Chris Stoebner said after the game. "We went on a couple of runs where we went up by eight or nine, and they came right back. That's exactly what you'd expect from two really good basketball teams. They never quit, and we made free throws down the stretch. Couldn't be prouder of my guys."

Stevens used 11 offensive rebounds to build a lead that Central kept coming back from, but the Raiders clutch free-throw shooting sealed the win in the final minute.

"The biggest thing is we shot ourselves in the foot by not boxing out for offensive rebounds in the first half," Cobbler coach T.J. Hay said. "That was the difference in the game. There's a big difference between playing catch up and being up by four or five. I loved our effort, until the buzzer we had great effort."

King had his 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from behind the 3-point line.

"It's a very good feeling. We knew it was going to be a battle all game long," King said. "We came out with a lot of energy and hoping for the win."

The first quarter was back-and-forth, but it was Central that escaped the first eight minutes with the lead at 17-16.

The second quarter was when the Raiders started to hone in offensive rebounds, using them to stretch their lead to 28-19 with under four minutes to go.

The Cobblers would not go away, as they closed the half on a 8-2 run to cut the deficit to 30-27 at the break.

Kailleb Walton-Blanden was quiet in the first half, but not so in the second. He scored 10 of his team-leading 13 points in the second. Elijah Williams also had 11, and Hay said he wished that number was higher but Central didn't do well enough getting him the ball in the post.

"We weren't very good in the half court offense, we wanted to get more post touches and we didn't do that," Hay said. "I thought both of our post players, Elijah and Mason (McBride) played well down on the block."

The third quarter was much of the same, as both teams traded baskets and Central continued to claw its way back. At the end of the third it trailed 41-37.

The fourth quarter was the same until the final minute. Up the Raiders up 53-46, Walton-Blanden started to hit 3-pointers, but Stevens was able to hit the free throws it needed to hang on. 

On the last possession, Stevens led 56-53, and 3-pointer by Walton-Blanden was no good and a foul was called, one of the free throws was hit which effectively ended the game with only two seconds remaining.

"As a coach you try to say it's like any other week or it's like any other game, but it's not," Stoebner said. "It's the rivals, throw that on the fact that we're both one and two. I didn't have to say much to get them going, I know that.

"We played guys a lot of minutes and they gave us everything they had right to the buzzer, and so did Central. You knew Central would fight back and they did. I expect the next time we play them it'll be the same dang thing."

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Although Stevens only had a 34-33 advantage on the boards and a 11-9 advantage on offensive rebounds, it was the timing of the rebounds that was the important part according to Stoebner.

"I thought, especially in the first half, we were really on the glass. I think that's how we scored a lot of our points," he said. "In the second half, we made some free throws, we didn't shoot it as well as in the first half but we got enough stops down there and hit enough free throws to seal the deal."

Stevens shot 41.4 percent from the field on 12-of-29 shooting in the first half and 7-of-21 (33.3 percent) in the second half. Central was 11-of-26 in the first half and 10-of-28 (35.7 percent) in the second half.

The Cobblers outshot the Raiders, going 21-of-54 for 38.9 percent while Stevens was 19-of-50 for 38 percent.

With the packed house and emotional atmosphere, both teams were able to maintain composure, but Stevens going 11-of-15 from the the free-throw line in the second half was just one of the ways King said the Raiders were able to handle the environment better.

"We stayed even keel throughout the game and played good defense when we had too," he said. "It's really hard to keep your emotions in check. We've been playing against them forever now; we played together when we were younger. This game means a little more, but it's just another game and we have a bigger plan throughout the season."

For Hay, he said the Cobblers' problems are easily correctable and he was happy with a lot of the things he saw from his team.

"I told them that we still have a third of our season left, and we can't walk out of here hanging our heads; they're 13-2," he said. "It's a loss. Maybe it'll get us focused, get back and get ready for two tough games next week. They'll bounce back. I wouldn't trade my guys for anybody and they're going to be better."

Stevens, 13-2, and Central, 13-2, will meet again at Central Feb. 15. Before that, the Raiders will host Sioux Falls Washington Friday while Central will host Sioux Falls Lincoln Friday.

Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.