It's crowded at the top.
Halfway through the Region 8-AAAA basketball schedule that much is certain. Beaufort High School kept its name in the conversation Saturday by defeating Bluffton High School 57-49 in a rowdy environment in the Eagles' Nest.
Beaufort High improved to 4-2 in 8-AAAA while handing Bluffton (12-4, 5-1) its first region loss.
The Eagles wanted to pressure Bluffton's guards outside the 3-point line and utilize their size inside. They built as much as a 17-point lead during the second half.
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Bluffton coach Brett Macy noted that of the four teams contending for the region title, each had protected its home floor through the first half of the league schedule.
Beaufort High's quest for the region crown is driven from having seen the benefits of a top seed during the postseason.
"We saw how Whale Branch did last year, those three straight home games for the playoffs," said Beaufort High's Carlton Johnson -- who, with teammate Kendrick Colvin, led the Eagles with 10 points. "We need that going into the playoffs, so we can kind of compete for that state championship."
The Eagles hoped to lock down Bobcats' scorer D.J. Dobson, who still finished with a game-high 20 points. It was Beaufort High's defensive work on the wings that Macy thought helped set the tone early.
Bluffton's long-range threat, Jae Middleton, finished with nine points.
Macy said the Bobcats were too quick to put the ball on the floor.
"We weren't patient enough," he said. "We've got to catch and fake there. We can't catch and dribble, then they're just going to take away more space."
Beaufort High was in danger of slipping to .500 in region play after a 48-41 loss at Fort Dorchester on Friday. But better rotation on defense and patience on the offensive end helped Beaufort High respond, coach Bruce Beasley said.
In a tightly officiated game -- both teams reached the double bonus each half with time to spare -- Beaufort High's more-populated bench might have helped.
Post player Otis McClain and Adonis Grant fouled out late for the Eagles, and their leading scorer Colvin left with an injured knee with more than four minutes remaining. Beaufort High protected its lead despite being held to two field goals in the final quarter and none over the final 2:55.
"All the things that we covered that we had to do to win the game, I think we did those," Beasley said.
Beaufort High boys 57, Bluffton 49
Bluffton (12-4, 5-1 Region 8-AAAA) -- D.J. Dobson 20, Jae Middleton 9, Adriel Willis 7, Laquan Washington 5, B.J. Hill 4, Lorenz Taylor 3, Chance Murphy 1
Beaufort High (16-3, 4-2) -- Kendrick Colvin 10, Carlton Johnson 10, Adonis Grant 9, Otis McClain 8, Monty White 8, Michael Dickson 5, Jawan Mack 4, Devin Stedman 2, Marlon Gray 1
Bluffton girls 50, Beaufort High 36
The Bluffton girls had been close recently, but had not yet finished a game in region play before Saturday.
The Bobcats lost to Fort Dorchester by three points in overtime on Jan. 24 and by a point at Ashley Ridge on Friday. Bluffton coach Lonnie Roberts said his team had been playing three and a half quarters -- not quite enough.
And the chance was there Saturday for the Bobcats to slip again. But this time, they held strong and improved to 1-5 in Region 8-AAAA.
When Beaufort High pulled within eight after a 9-0 run to start the second half, the Bobcats answered with their own run. Bluffton led by as many as 21 during the fourth quarter.
"I think we began to play a little bit better than what we've been playing when we opened up region," Roberts said. "I just think right now we're doing a little things different defensively. We're still missing a lot of free throws. We're still making a lot of turnovers."
Bluffton (8-11, 1-5 Region 8-AAAA) -- Dynasty Mervin 16, Baylor Davis 11, Diamon Smalls 6, Autumn Card 5, Alexis Manuel 4, Tatyana Fripp 4, Johnnie Gaston 2, Evian Mitchell 2
Beaufort High (4-15, 0-6) -- Mattie Hibbs 7, Carolina O'Hara 7, Kaitlyn Hamilton 7, Jasmine Wallace 4, Monique Jones 4, Lilly Allen 4, Brittany Whitmore 2, Jaia Johnson 1