Quest for a championship
In college basketball, the postseason is dubbed March Madness. In high school basketball, perhaps February Frenzy would be more fitting.
Whatever you choose to call it, the prep postseason arrives in Sevier County as both of the conferences in which local teams compete in will be right here on the home turf, beginning Monday.
The District 2-AAA (IMAC) tournament will be played this week at Seymour High School, while the District 3-AA tournament will call Gatlinburg-Pittman’s spanking new gymnasium home this year.
Games at Seymour begin Monday, while the contests at G-P don’t begin until Friday. Championships will be played in 2-AAA on Saturday, while the 3-AA’s title games won’t tip until Monday and Tuesday.
Local teams look poised to make runs in each of the four brackets that we’ll see this week, but the district standout Lady Highlanders (No. 1 seed in 3-AA) and Smoky Bears (No. 2 seed in 2-AAA) are in the best position for a shot at a conference title.
Coach Katie Parton’s girls (22-6 overall, 12-0 in 3-AA), by virtue of their unbeaten run through the district, won’t have to play until this coming Saturday and need just one victory to make the district championship game.
They’ll play the winner of four-seed Austin-East (11-7, 6-6) and five-seed Gibbs (8-17, 3-9) in the semifinals. Those two teams play Friday at 7 p.m. in the tournament’s opening round.
Pigeon Forge (16-8, 8-4), the third seed in the girls bracket, will play their first game Friday at 4 p.m. at GPHS against the winner of sixth-seeded Union County (12-14, 3-8) and seventh-seeded Carter (3-20, 0-11).
Those two teams, the lowest ranked teams in the conference, are slated for a play in game early in the week.
Other than rival Pigeon Forge, G-P’s biggest challenge for their first district tournament championship since the 2007-2008 season (in a different conference) will likely be two-seed Fulton.
The Lady Falcons (17-5, 9-2) were state-ranked most of the season, but had their difficulties with the Lady Highlanders. G-P beat them in both regular-season matchups, 65-62 in December in Gatlinburg, and 67-59 in Knoxville earlier this month.
The local boys teams in District 3-AA have had their seasons this year, which has resulted in both Gatlinburg-Pittman and Pigeon Forge being relegated to Tuesday night’s play-in game at GPHS.
The Highlanders (14-15, 3-9) have home-court advantage in the contest because of a two-game advantage in league play over the Tigers (7-20, 1-11).
But the teams split their pair of regular season games, and both contests were dramatic.
Pigeon Forge won an incredible 93-91 shootout at PFHS on Dec. 7, while the Highlanders won a last-minute, come-from-behind victory over the Tigers 70-69 on Jan. 18.
Both games showcased the affect of playing a county rival can have on a team, as the level of play in both contests exceeded the team’s usual efforts, resulting in great drama for the spectators.
Austin-East and Fulton, the district’s top two seeds, appear the clear favorites in the tournament. G-P and Pigeon Forge are both on Fulton’s side of the bracket. A 16-point defeat was as close as either team was in four meetings with the Falcons this season.
The host Seymour Lady Eagles (16-13, 9-5) started the 2-AAA season strong, going 5-0 in their first five conference games, before falling back to the pack over the second half of the IMAC season.
But the Lady Eagles still managed to finish as the district’s third seed, and drew a first-round bye in the tournament.
They’ll face the winner of sixth-seeded Morristown East and seventh-seeded Cherokee on Wednesday night at 7:30. The Lady Hurricanes and Lady Chiefs will play in the tournament’s first round on Monday night at 7:30.
Should Seymour manage a victory, they’ll host Morristown West Friday night for a spot in Saturday’s finals.
The Sevier County Bearettes (13-15, 6-8) earned the tournament’s fifth-seed, and they’ll take on eigth-seeded South-Doyle Monday night at 6 p.m. in a first-round contest.
Stacy Marine’s squad struggled with inexperience and injuries early in the year, but went 6-4 over their last 10 games, including impressive wins against Maryville, Pigeon Forge, Morristown East, Seymour and Jefferson County.
A win for the Bearettes would mean a Wednesday matchup with JCHS for a shot at top-seeded Cocke County on Friday in the semifinals.
The Sevier County Bears (24-4, 12-2) finished the season in a first-place deadlock with the Jefferson County Patriots (21-7, 12-2), but the Pats get the top-seed based on a tie-breaker.
That means the Bears — who still earned a bye to the semifinals — won’t play until Friday.
They’ll play the winner of Cherokee (19-11, 10-4) and Seymour/South-Doyle.
The homesteading Eagles (17-11, 5-9) are the tournament’s sixth-seed and get things started on Tuesday in the first round against the S-D Cherokees (6-20, 3-11) at 7:30.
On the other side of the bracket, the Patriots await the winner of fourth-seeded Cocke County and Morristown East/Morristown West.
The Trojans and Hurricanes play Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a spot in a Thursday game against the Fighting Cocks.
See all of the tournament brackets on themountainpress.com.