With one game canceled this week because of snow, Friday's contest was the regular-season finale for the Panthers (19-1, 17-0 district). They became the fourth team in the Bay Rivers' 24-season history — joining the 1998-99 Panthers, New Kent (2009-10) and Grafton (2012-13) — as unbeatens in regular-season district play.
Swinton opened with a 3-pointer and hit another to give the Panthers a 12-4 lead. Doucet added a drive and a steal-plus-layup in the early run. Swinton added three assists as the Panthers led 21-12 after a quarter.
“I hit my first shots, but after that, I wanted to get my teammates the ball,” Swinton said. “All nine of the seniors felt good about our final regular-season game and had each others' backs.”
Carter had the Packers' throats to start the second quarter.
He began the second stanza with a pull-up jumper, a three-point play and drive and dunk along the baseline over multiple Packers. He assisted on a 3 for Swinton, his third trey of the game, to give the Panthers the 20-point lead.
“Senior Night gave us a lot more energy, being our last regular-season home game,” Carter said. “The seniors have been here through everything for four years: losses in the regular season and the state tournament (semifinals in 2013), so we really wanted this win.”
To its credit, Smithfield (13-5, 13-4) — which has put together its best regular season in decades — withstood the Panthers' early burst and continued to compete. That attitude pleased Packers coach Richard Pullen.
“Swinton and Carter are dominating players,” Pullen said. “When they are hitting their shots like they were, you can get down on yourself and quit or you can keep pushing.
“We stayed with our zone, but extended it toward half-court in the second half and tried to chase Swinton into the corner so he didn't get the open 3s.”
Bruton's lead still was 18 points at the end of three quarters, and the start of Smithfield's fourth-quarter rally came against the Panthers' reserves. But even when Panthers coach Joe Dillard put the starters back in, the Packers — led by freshmen Chris Pierce (21 points) and Ryan Jones (11 points), Nick Wells (14 points) and JV call-up Nick Turner (11 points) — continued to rally.
Smithfield cut the deficit to 68-63 with 1:30 remaining before Carter sealed the victory for the Panthers by hitting 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch. The nice finish sealed Bruton's place in Bay Rivers history and catapulted the Panthers into the postseason, where they hope to make more memories.
“It's great to finish the district season unbeaten, but we can't think about that anymore,” Carter said. “It's one-and-done from now on, so it's on to the next stage.”
Bruton opens Conference 33 tournament play Thursday at home against an opponent to be determined with a 2A East Region berth on the line.
Smithfield, which hosts York on Saturday in its final regular-season game, hosts Tabb on Wednesday in the Conference 19 tournament with a 4A South Region berth at stake.
BRUTON 75, SMITHFIELD 67
SMITHFIELD (13-5, 13-4): Holloway 4, Wells 14, Turner 11, Jones 12, Pierce 21, Pullen 5. Totals 23 17-25 67.
BRUTON (19-1, 17-0): Carter 33, Swinton 18, Carr 3, Hert 2, Edwards 2, Doucet 7, Legaspi 5, Sangalang 6. Totals 29 12-16 76.
Smithfield: 12, 14, 10, 31 – 67
Bruton: 21, 17, 16, 22 – 76
3-pointers: Smithfield 4 (Turner 2, Jones 2), Bruton 6 (Swinton 3, Carter, Carr, Legaspi). JV: Smithfield won.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.