Morristown West takes home freshman title
The Morristown West High Trojans freshmen team poses after winning the title in Rogersville on Thursday night.
ROGERSVILLE — Sevier County’s freshman basketball team ran roughshod through the Inter Mountain Conference this season, amassing an unblemished record and the heavy favorite status in the IMAC tournament this week.
Their hopes for an unbeaten slate and a tournament title came to a crashing halt at Cherokee High School Thursday night at the hands of Morristown West, the only team to come close to defeating the Smoky Bears during the regular season.
This time, the Trojans didn’t have to settle for a moral victory, as they took the lead on the first bucket of the second quarter and never trailed again in a 63-53 victory that gave them the IMAC postseason crown and a final record of 17-4 on the year.
West coach Kendall Bryant said it came down to defense in the contest, and his team simply outworked the favored Smoky Bears on both ends of the floor.
“This feels really good,” Bryant said. “That was a solid team, and we felt like we won that one on the defensive end.
We played hard and limited what they got. There were some times when some fouls and some calls didn’t go our way, but they kept battling. They have come a long way in the last three months, and this is what we have been working for.”
The Trojans could have been content late in the game to try and hold onto their 14-point fourth quarter lead, but they kept attacking the basket and making critical shots while keeping Sevier County at a safe distance from the lead.
“We don’t hold the ball well, and I felt like if we kept attacking, it would create things other places for us,” Bryant said. “We got into the paint and got off some good shots, and that was a big difference.”
Another big piece in the winning puzzle for West was the play of Josh McDonald, who fired in 18 points, including 10 in the second half, to lead the Trojans to the victory.
He was also named the tournament’s MVP.
“Josh was steady,” Bryant said. “What is he, 6-foot tall? He’s 6-foot and playing post. He’s got a lot of heart and plays hard. He played well, and our guards took care of the ball. And we had guys coming off the bench doing things. Hezikayah (Rudolph) comes off the bench and gets a basket, an assist and a steal. Those are the things you have to have to win.”
Daymion Blevins and Logan Strange were both named to the All-Tournament team as well as McDonald, with Blevins having a high night off the bench for the Trojans. He tallied 14 points, including crucial buckets late to keep the lead near double digits in the final minutes of the game.
“There have been those nights where Daymion has had those looks and struggled, but tonight he came through,” Bryant said.
Bryant said his son Preston, who serves as his assistant coach, came up with the game plan to attack the Smoky Bears, and it worked in their favor.
“I have to give props to Preston,” Bryant said. “He had a good game plan. It’s fun getting to coach with my son, and it has been a pretty neat experience. We both appreciate the support from the parents and the kids playing hard.”
West showed it was game early on by getting the first two buckets of the game from McDonald and Mason Earls, and they only trailed by a single basket late in the first quarter before Blevins scored late to tie it at 11 going to the second frame.
Strange, who finished with 9 points, opened the second period with a 3-pointer to put the Trojans back on top, and they never surrendered the lead. With the score 15-13, McDonald hit two free throws and Strange added a driving layup to spark a 12-3 run that pushed the lead to 27-16 before Sevier County trimmed it slightly to 29-19 at halftime.
The Smoky Bears appeared poised to make a run in the third period, cutting the margin to 34-27 on a bucket by Seth Marshall, but a timeout by the Sevier County coach killed his own team’s momentum. Blevins hit a shot out of the break to jumpstart a 12-5 run that doubled the lead to 46-32 entering the fourth.
The Smoky Bears began to chip away and eventually had the lead down to 7 on two occasions, but each time they appeared to get a run going, Blevins or McDonald stepped up to end the threat. They each had 6 points in the final quarter, with 10 of their 12 combined points coming in the final 3:39 of the contest to help seal the win.
Justin Barnett led Sevier County with 17 points in the contest, while Marshall, Tanner Parish and Dalton Muse each had 9 in the loss. Austin Patterson, who scored 21 points in Wednesday’s semifinal round, was held to just one point in the defeat.
“We kept Barnett and Patterson from going off tonight,” Bryant said. “We rebounded well too. Most of the night it was one look and done for them.”
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor