In a basketball rivalry that’s known for back-and-forth games, it was no surprise the two varsity teams at Auburn High and Central-Phenix City each had their fair share of big moments Tuesday night.

The two local foes kicked off area play in a big way at Auburn, as the Central-Phenix City girls topped the Lady Tigers 54-48 and the Auburn boys took it to Central 67-40. The evening’s split games set the winners in the driver’s seat in the area while leaving the losers with plenty of work to do in the coming weeks.

PHOTO GALLERY: See photos from the Auburn High vs. Central-Phenix City games in a gallery at the end of this story. 

The Lady Red Devils entered Tuesday’s game knowing they had to limit Auburn point guard Olivia Porter’s scoring, and thanks to their defensive prowess the road squad made it happen.

After Central led 23-22 at halftime, the Lady Red Devils jumped out to an eight-point lead courtesy a scoring run that saw Central (11-4, 1-0) put the pressure on Auburn again and again and also take total control on the boards. The Lady Red Devils had second-shot opportunity after second-shot opportunity against Auburn, and the results were Central making the most of enough of those chances and Auburn struggling to get stops.

“It was about doing your job defensively and controlling the boards,” Central girls coach Carolyn Wright said. “We fell short of keeping them off the free-throw line, and they did a good job there. I think they stuck to the game plan. We tried to wear them down by putting in three and taking out three and just trying to wear them down some and have them fatigued.”

Auburn (13-7, 0-1) stayed within four points of Central entering the fourth, but shortly thereafter the Lady Red Devils took total control. Central kept constant pressure on the Auburn offense, and within five minutes of the final quarter the Lady Red Devils had built a double-digit lead.

Auburn cut into the Central’s lead in the final minute-and-a-half, but it was too little, too late.

Sierra Roberts led Central with 13 points to go with four rebounds, five assists and four steals. Gadiely Mendez-Andino put up nine points and five rebounds.

For Auburn, Kennady Fetner finished the night with 16 points and five rebounds. Porter made plays late to help the Lady Tigers close the gap, and she ended the game with 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and four steals

Wright emphasized after the victory how important the game was against the reigning area champions.

“Area games are the ones you definitely have to be focused on,” Wright said. “You can’t show up and not be ready to go because everybody wants to win in their area.”

The varsity girls game between Auburn and Central was up for grabs for the better part of the game. The same cannot be said of the boys game.

Auburn (12-7, 1-0) wasted little time in asserting its dominance against Central, as the Tigers came out of the gates on a 17-6 first quarter-run that left the Red Devils reeling. The dominant eight minutes to start the game set the tone for the remaining 24 minutes, as the Tigers used their fluid offense and stingy defense to leave Central with more questions than answers.

“I was really proud of how they came out,” Auburn boys coach Chris Brandt said. “I think when we’re chaotic and don’t know what to do, that’s when we’re at our best. It’s kind of a different team than what I’ve coached. Usually, we’re very slowed down in the pace. With this year’s team, we’re pressing and trapping, changing speeds and going to a half-court and full-court set. I think that’s been really successful for us.”

Auburn had the game in hand by halftime, but the Tigers did an excellent job of never letting their foot off the throttle. Auburn answered 35 first-half points with 32 in the second half to ensure there was absolutely no hope for a late comeback.

Jay Cannon led all scorers with 15 points in the victory. Cannon’s teammate Jayden Buckley came through with 12 points of his own.

For Central, Jerrell Bellamy led the way with 11 points and a game-high six rebounds.

After missing the state tournament last season, Brandt said the goal for Auburn this season is to host the area tournament. Although there’s plenty of basketball left to be played, the Tigers took a big step in that direction Tuesday night.

“That (win) is huge. We’re 1-0. We’ve got to go to Smiths (Station) next week, which will be another big game,” Brandt said. We want to host. Whatever we can do to host area, that’s the goal.”

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