LANGLEY, S.C. - It seemed Friday night's winner in the matchup between Midland Valley and Aiken would be decided by whichever team's No. 20 got the last shot.
But with 10.6 seconds left, an unexpected hero stepped up for the Mustangs. George Leverette took an inbound pass and scored a layup for the go-ahead basket as Midland Valley held off the Hornets for a 69-67 win.
Leverette's basket put the Mustangs on top 68-67, then Aiken threatened to take back the lead with 2.1 seconds to play. Brandon Simpkins drove for a potential game-winning shot, but it was blocked by Marc Williams. Leverette hit a free throw to give the Mustangs the final margin of victory.
"We're gaining more and more confidence as the season goes on," said Midland Valley head coach Mark Wright, whose team improves to 6-4. "Aiken beat us by four at their place, so we wanted to come out and represent in our house. This is real big for our club."
Leverette's go-ahead shot came after a battle between Midland Valley's Corey Wade and Aiken's Simpkins. Wade, who finished with a game-high 31 points, tied the game at 64 with a driving layup, then put the Mustangs ahead by two with another score on a drive to the basket with 1:08 left in the contest.
On the Hornets' next drive, Simpkins drove to the basket and drew three defenders before laying it off to AJ Gordon, who finished the layup and got fouled, giving Aiken a 67-66 lead with 45 seconds left. Simpkins, who finished with 23 points, did most of his damage in crunch time, answering every Mustangs basket with one of his own.
Gordon, who pumped in a team-high 25 points for Aiken, got the reward on the inside, with Simpkins drawing extra defenders from penetration. After Gordon put the Hornets up with 45 seconds left, Aiken had a chance to seal the win after Williams missed a jumper with 20 seconds left.
But after controlling the rebound, Aiken's Antwan Smith dribbled the ball off of teammate Corey Ready's back, giving Midland Valley the chance for the game winning shot. Aiken falls to 6-6.
The Mustangs are just one victory shy of their total win count from a year ago. Just a week after knocking off Blackville-Hilda 98-92 to win the Hawk Invitational, Wright is confident about the rest of the season.
"Our seniors are making the plays seniors need to make, and we're getting better each night out," he said. "We're ready to finally turn this program around. We've still got to work on a lot of things, but I'm happy with our progress."
In the girls matchup, Aiken used a 13-2 run in the first quarter to turn an 8-7 deficit into a 20-10 lead in the first quarter. The Lady Hornets went on to defeat the Lady Mustangs 60-38 behind Ebony Jones' 19 points and Nola Grant's 16, respectively.
Aiken opened the second period with six straight points and went into halftime leading 38-18. The Lady Hornets improve to 7-4, while the Lady Mustangs drop to 3-7.
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.