By Trey Williams
The Science Hill Hilltoppers and Daniel Boone Lady Trailblazers each went undefeated en route to Big Seven Conference basketball championships this season.
But that’ll become a distant memory if they don’t escape unscathed in this week’s District 1-AAA tournament at Science Hill.
The Lady ‘Blazers (25-4) and ‘Toppers (21-9) can look at last season for a reminder of how you’re not remembered for what you did as much as for what you’ve done lately.
Daniel Boone, which secured a regional berth along with Science Hill for a top-two league finish, also won a league title after going 11-1 in the conference last year. However, it was stymied in a 45-30 loss to Dobyns-Bennett in the district tournament title game and sputtered against South Doyle down the stretch of a 59-58 regional opener loss to miss out on an anticipated sectional berth.
Science Hill’s boys finished second to David Crockett in the regular season and district tournament in 2016, but avoided a fourth straight loss to the Pioneers with an upset victory in the regional championship. Consequently, the Hilltoppers avoided a sectional game at Oak Ridge and clinched a state tournament berth with a 71-48 win against Karns, which had lost 70-40 to Oak Ridge in the regional final.
Granted, Crockett bounced back with an upset win at Oak Ridge to join Science Hill in Murfreesboro. But the Hilltoppers know that he who laughs last can laugh the longest.
“Beating Crockett was the best feeling and the most hype game ever,” said Science Hill junior wing David Bryant. “Getting to the state tournament was awesome, because most of the team this year was able to play in that game and realize how amazing it was.
And that’s where we want to go.”
The Lady Trailblazers are intent on reaching Murfreesboro, too. They didn’t even bother cutting down the nets after winning the league title this season.
“Last year we cut ‘em down after the Tennessee High game (clinched the conference) and we evidently shut it down,” Boone coach Travis Mains said. “The kids have been focused on what happened to us last year not happening again. They want to win the district title, I think, moreso than going undefeated in the regular season. … They want to get to the state this year.”
Boone enters on a 15-game wins streak that includes triumphs against District 2-AAA’s Morrristown West and Jefferson County.
“I feel like we have a little pressure going into the tournament just because we lost to D-B last year when we felt like we shouldn’t have in the district tournament,” Boone senior Montana Riddle said. “But at the same time, we’re a way more different team than we were last year. … The wins against Mo West and Jeff County were both major contributors to our confidence.”
Junior guard Macie Culbertson and junior 6-foot-2 post Sydney Pearce have hit their stride of late for Boone. Culbertson, who leads Boone in scoring (10.5 ppg), assists (4.0), rebounds (5.8) and steals (2.6), has committed to Belmont. Pearce (10.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg) has numerous Division I suitors, too.
Sophomores Bayleigh Carmichel (10.2 ppg) and Jaycie Jenkins (9.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 64 percent field goal shooting) have been invaluable.
Mains expects Dobyns-
Bennett or Science Hill to reach the district tourney final. The Lady ‘Toppers are led by talented 5-foot-10 freshman forward Alasia Smith and hot-shooting senior win Kaitlyn Phillips.
“Both D-B and Science Hill have enough size to rebound and score some inside on us,” Mains said.
“And Science Hill has Phillips – they may have a couple more shooters than D-B does. … D-B’s point guard play is much improved.
“That’ll be a tough game for Science Hill on Friday if D-B can get by Volunteer. That’ll probably be one of the best games in the area Friday night.”
Science Hill’s boys didn’t lose a league game but they did lose to Dobyns-Bennett in an Arby’s Classic losers’ bracket game in December.
“Yea, but they put it on us over there at their place,” said Dobyns-Bennett coach Charlie Morgan, whose Indians secured a regional berth with their second-place league finish.
“They’re playing pretty good basketball. We didn’t handle their press. If you can handle their press and don’t turn it over you’ve got a chance. But unfortunately, each time we’ve seen them since then (Arby’s) we’ve had too many turnovers. … They’ve just picked up their intensity.”
Science Hill 6-foot-4 senior wing Bowden Lyon is a difficult matchup.
“He’s tough to guard, without a question,” Morgan said. “And they’ll try to post him a few times there, too.”
Science Hill only had three league games with single-digit margins of outcome – 41-39 at Boone, 68-59 at home against Crockett and 70-62 at home against Tennessee High. Crockett’s Josh Releford and Tennessee High’s Michael Mays are two long-range gunners with flashing green lights who give their teams a puncher’s chance. Boone’s trio of Evan Scanlan, Eric Rigsby and Chad Heglar can be formidable.
The fact that the Pioneers, ‘Blazers and Vikings have hung around against Science Hill should bolster confidence. But so should Science Hill’s current eight-game wins streak, which has been compiled at an average margin of 21.9 points per game.
The Hilltoppers beat Boone 82-44 on Jan. 20 at home after edging it 41-39 at Boone on Dec. 2.
“I feel like our press gets better day after day,” Science Hill’s Bryant said. “We can’t take any team in our league for granted, because everyone has a key player and they are all good teams. We just have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”