IRMO, S.C. -- North Augusta coach Ron McKie knew this was a game his Yellow Jackets could win; he just wasn't sure they would.
But No. 3 North Augusta came to No. 5 Irmo and stole a 31-30 nailbiter that was as good as advertised. Since dropping its first two games of the season, North Augusta has now rolled off 14 wins in a row and slipped past one of the top teams in Region 3-AAAA.
North Augusta's Lady Jackets made it a clean sweep as they held off Irmo 42-33 behind Lindsey Cawley's game-high 20 points.
In the first quarter, the boys' teams played about as even as their records, with Tyrone Walker quickly establishing his turf down low for the game's first bucket. Irmo's Patrick Hogan equaled Walker's strength on the other end, tying the score on a layup.
North Augusta came in wanting to run and gun, but instead settled down into what turned out to be their lowest output of the season.
"We knew that they were going to slow the game down," said Walker, who led North Augusta with 10 points. "We just tried to pick and choose when to run and when not to."
North Augusta picked up the pace when it went to a half-court press that forced back-to-back Irmo turnobers. Walker's steal and layup completed the run, giving North Augusta an 11-7 early lead.
But Irmo's patient offense kept North Augusta from sprinting out to a larger lead. On one possession, Irmo made 14 passes without taking a shot, limiting North Augusta to a 11-9 first-quarter lead.
"We would like to run, but we don't have the offense to do it," Irmo coach Tim Whipple said. "When you struggle with your shots, you want to come away with at least the best attempt possible."
But in the second quarter, North Augusta went on the first tear of the game, scoring five straight to take a 16-9 lead. A Byron Harris 3-pointer with less than a minute left in the first half gave the visitors their largest lead of the game at 20-13.
"They took away a lot of our strengths," McKie said. "It wasn't pretty, but I was glad our guys finally settled down and pulled it out."
Whatever momentum North Augusta had, Irmo took away in the third quarter, exploding on a 13-2 run capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Monty Alexander and E.J. Frasier. Now down 26-22, North Augusta's Sean Mims decided to show up.
Mims, who was held scoreless in the first half, scored the next four points, tying the game on a driving jumper from the corner.
It was only fitting that the game was tied at 26-all going into the fourth quarter. With neither team being able to grab the momentum, it would come down who cracked first.
Mims' 3-pointer to open the quarter gave North Augusta a quick lead, but Hogan quietly ate it up. The latter scored on a put-back to bring Irmo within one and then nailed two free throws with a minute left to give Irmo a 30-29 lead.
But just as Hogan hit crucial shots, Walker would answer. The senior stepped to the line with 40 seconds left and buried two free throws to give his team the lead 31-30.
With two seconds left and every fan standing, Irmo had one shot to win it, but Alexander's leaning jumper clanked on the side of the rim.
"It's a loss and you hate to let it get away," Whippled said. "But it's to one of the top teams in the region so you don't feel as bad."
Patrick Green covers sports in South Carolina for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 648-1395.