By Matt Myers
If the Lady Jr. Black Knights of Chuckey Doak (18-1) had not shown up to participate in the Tri-County District 1 Tournament’s packed-house championship round, the Lady Jr. Warriors of Happy Valley would have most likely chosen up amongst themselves and done battle Tuesday night at Hampton Elementary.
That was the nature of the maroon clad ladies’ gritty resolve as they used determined execution and sound mental toughness to dismantle a championship caliber Doak squad 38-22 at Hampton Elementary.
In the two squads’ previous two contests, the Knights (18-1) were able to place HV in the loss column. The significance of capturing tournament gold over the undefeated ladies from Greene County coupled with the ferocity of the Warriors’ dedication to intensity and effort were two things that did not go unnoticed by their calm and collected skipper Dana Hill.
“You know this was a team that had beaten us twice during the season and our girls took that personally in their preparation,” said Hill after the win. “They wanted to hit their stride tonight, they wanted to come out and show that our best basketball play is yet to come, and with focus and dedication the team did that. It was just a great all-around effort and this is how we want to be playing basketball in January and February.”
The title games’ first half was marked by HV’s ability to force turnovers and turn them into easy points via the transition game early, and their mastery of halfcourt ball movement late. Kalee Johnson provided the offensive foundation upon which the Warriors (17-2) would build their 19-7 halftime advantage as the post stalwart took advantage of the precise press-busting passes of Kennedy Richardson en route to easy baskets behind trailing defenders. By the two-minute mark of the first half, the youngster had already garnered five points and five boards in what would become a 13-point, 9-board outing for the tournament MVP.
Unfortunately for C-D, her play was not the only highlight of the first 12 minutes.
A deep-corner three triggered by Mackenzie Davis at the buzzer, three of her six points on the evening, was the result of Warrior ball movement that reached a non-pareil level in the half’s closing moments amidst offensive-attack sets designed to spread the Black Knight defense, which in turn created shots.
The Lady Jr. Warriors once again implored the spread offense in the half-court to take control of the game’s latter half. The shooting of Beth Reece and Jamie Lee
Clark amidst nine- and six-point nights, respectively, highlighted the Lady Jr. Warriors focus on ball movement for the open shot in the second half.
Although the Knights did begin to scratch the surface of building momentum in the second half, with Keri Ricker and Madi McInturff contributing amidst dual five-point outings, the formidable defensive execution of the Lady Jr. Warriors as well as their patience in shot selection and dominance of the glass were salvos CD could simply not answer adequately.
Championship basketball teams pride themselves on using precise shooting and stingy, slow-pass exploiting defense to overcome the savvy defensive charges of a tough underdog opponent in a hostile environment.
Tuesday night, the Cloudland Jr. Highlanders ( 17-2) proved that they are indeed a championship team with a win over the Hampton (16-7) in the title bout.
As the fluid youngster has all season, Colby Birchfield set about anchoring the Jr. Highlanders in the early going of what would become a 21-point, 5-steal night for the standout. Birchfield’s gridironesque interception of a Jr. Bulldog cross court aerial that blossomed into a seamless coast-to-coast layin completed a first-minute 5-0 Jr. Highlander run that set the offensive tone in the contest.
From there, the Jr. Bulldogs set about quelling the regular-season champions’ momentum in the first half, a feat that they would accomplish with gritty defensive play that began to visibly harass the Jr. Highlanders and cause turnovers.
Hunter Pierce’s 3-pointer for the Jr. Bulldogs that immediately followed the 5-0 CMS run coupled with the sound offensive-glass play of Coby Jones en route to a team-leading eight-point night provided dim sparks of offense and allowed the Jr. Bulldogs to remain in the hunt momentarily.
Then the aforementioned shooting precision came into play.
A deep, contested 3-pointer in the face of a defender by Birchfield broke through the momentum arch created by the Jr. Bulldog defense and allowed the Jr. Highlanders to garner a 10-point foothold going into the second half.
By the 1:30 mark of the third quarter, that foothold was a full beachhead for the Jr. Highlanders as Austin Whitehead really began to emerge amidst a 14-point outing for the second prong of the Jr. Highlanders’ dual shooting-guard scoring attack.
The Jr. Highlanders were ahead 34- 16 heading into the fourth.
The Jr. Bulldogs shot well late in the game as Chris Holtsclaw and Tin Tin Olvera contributed to their six- and five-point nights, respectively, and the charges from Hampton also continued to force turnovers and play determined defensively.
Ultimately it would not be enough as the Jr. Highlanders were able to get valuable tournament experience for their bench late after another Whitehead 3 pushed the margin beyond 25. Jr. Highlander head coach Jordan Hughes was pleased with his team’s effort on both sides of the basketball.
“You know how it is, this is Hampton and it is tournament time,” said a smiling Hughes after the win and hardware presentation. “Our guys knew what to expect and they really gave an effort that went beyond my expectations. Their toughness was something I have been looking for in their play all season and they really showed it tonight. I was really impressed with our defense and passing it was just an all-around effort. We did not just look to two or three guys to make all the plays, and I’m very pleased with that.”
All-tournament player Davi Heaton paced the Cloudland (16-6) in scoring with 16 points and teammates Patricia Singleton and Johannah Johnson contributed seven apiece as the Lady Jr. Highlanders survived a late comeback charge by Hampton (9-13).
Kourtney Tolley, Beth Hickman, and Kinzey Hill anchored a Hampton shooting performance that was palpable late and actually cut the Lady Jr. Highlander lead to three at the :43 mark of the final period. Three-pointers by Hill and Tolley were highlights of Hampton’s determined last stand that almost achieved victory long after anyone in the building expected.
All-tournament player Tolley finished with 14 points while Hickman and Hill added five apiece in the victory.
Happy Valley…………………….. 41
Johnson County………………… 36
The Happy Valley Jr. Warriors (14- 6) played above their heads as they have all year, considering their youth at key positions, and once again it was enough to put them into the win column.
The hard-fought victory over the Johnson County (8-6) saw Austin Hicks pace the Jr. Warriors in scoring with 13 points amidst a performance that would garner him all-tournament honors. Teammate Nate Kyte continued with his impressive offensive season with a 12-point outing while Ryne Baines finished with 8.
The Jr. Longhorns were paced in scoring by Cody Bailey, who finished with 15, and Brandon Vanhoy, who finished with 12 points, in an effort that saw them maintain the lead for several minutes throughout the contest — but ultimately not be able to withstand the crucial post play of Hicks late. All in all the contest was among the most exciting of the evening as six ties were reached as well as five lead changes.