If Brad Meccariello's back is sore today, it's because he was carrying a heavy load on Tuesday night.
Hilton Head Christian Academy's junior guard led the way with 24 points as the Eagles won a tough home game against rival Hilton Head Preparatory School, 50-42.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Meccariello played bigger on this night. When he wasn't scoring, his drives and passes often led to Eagles buckets. And he took a pounding for his effort.
"There's no doubt, Brad is our catalyst," Hilton Head Christian coach Mac Tamminen said. "Everything kind of runs through Brad. Offensively, defensively, he's just a natural leader. When he's on and when he's hitting, everybody else keys off of him."
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If his performance was any indication, Meccariello relished his role. And afterward, he admitted as much.
"When the game's on the line, I feel like it's my responsibility," Meccariello said.
For Meccariello, that's exactly where the game was -- on the line.
After the Eagles pushed a five-point halftime lead to 13 midway through the third quarter at 36-23, the Dolphins buckled down on defense and made life miserable for Hilton Head Christian (8-6, 2-1 SCISAA Region 3-AAA).
The Dolphins held the Eagles to just one field goal in the first 6:02 of the fourth quarter, pulling to within one at 42-41.
"For a few minutes there, we couldn't do anything on offense. We were flustered," Meccariello said. "Their defense just expands the floor, and we just got a little flustered."
But after Prep's John Eck missed a layup after a steal and a break, the Dolphins started fouling.
While Hilton Head Prep missed several big shots that would have kept them in the game, the Eagles went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line down the stretch -- including 6 for 6 by Meccariello -- to put the game away.
"It's been a process ever since I was little," said Meccariello, who hit all 10 of his free throws. "My dad would tell me those are the most important shots in the game. You've just got to make them."
The Eagles were able to stay out front in the second and third quarters, in part because of their ability to disrupt Dolphins ball-handlers Charlie Wilmot and John Sheehan as they brought the ball up court.
"That's something that we try to do is create a little bit of offense with our defense," Tamminen said. "We felt like we could pressure their guards a little bit and give them some problems, and I think we were successful. Running a guy at them, a few traps here and there."
"They figured it out in the second half, but they didn't make some big shots at the end, and we shot well all night. Anytime you're playing good defense and shooting the ball well, it's going to come out in your favor."
Ryan Barrett and Zack Polk each added eight points for the Eagles.
Eck led the Dolphins (9-8, 0-3) with 19 points.
"We had a chance to go ahead and we had a chance to tie it up a couple of times," Hilton Head Prep coach Jerry Faulkner said. "We just couldn't hit the shot. That's going to happen.
"I give credit to Hilton Head Christian. Rather than say our guys didn't do it, I credit the opponent there, they did a good job."
HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN 50, HILTON HEAD PREP 42
HHP -- John Eck 19, Shaun Topper 8, Charlie Wilmot 6, Randy Young 5, Cole Gardocki 2, Sam McCracken 2.
HHCA -- Brad Meccariello 24, Ryan Barrett 8, Zack Polk 8, Caleb Lewis 4, JD Lehman 3, Jamario Williams 2, Josh Polk 1