Sevier County falls to Dobyns-Bennett in region semifinal

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 10:08 PM

 They’re the calling cards of a season’s painful conclusion: bloodshot eyes, faces buried in jerseys, fists banged against concrete.

The end came too soon for Jacob Whaley and his Sevier County teammates, like it does almost every year.

“It just really hits you,” Whaley said. “It’s very disappointing because I’ve been here for four years. When it was over, it really hit all of us it seems.”

A year after a win over Dobyns-Bennett took the Smoky Bears into the Region 1-AAA final, Sevier County couldn’t repeat the feat in a 53-47 loss to the Indians at Jefferson County High School on Tuesday. Whaley had 18 points in his final career game. Trent Pope had eight, including a bucket that brought the Bears (21-10) within a point with three minutes, 47 seconds to go.

But D-B (20-8) stretched the lead to five over the next minute thanks in part to a pair of missed free throws from Sevier County, eventually taking a lead as big as nine in the final 40 seconds to clinch a spot in Thursday’s region final. The Indians' 6-foot-7 junior John Fulkerson had six of his team-high 14 points over that stretch.

“They were (starting to make a run),” Fulkerson said. “We just had to keep our heads in it and stay together.”

The Bears were right on the heels of a D-B team that hadn’t lost since December throughout the region semifinal. Sevier County held short-lived leads in the first two quarters before the Indians scored 10 of the first 15 points of the second half to jump in front by seven.

The deficit was nine at the start of the fourth, but Sevier County roared back with an 8-0 run. That included a thunderous Fulkerson dunk that was negated by a charge. The final few minutes wouldn’t change a game-long trend, though. The Bears just couldn’t get — and stay — ahead of Dobyns-Bennett.

“They’re very, very, very talented,” said Sevier County coach Ken Wright. “There’s a reason they haven’t lost since Christmas. Their big kid, when he didn’t block shots, he altered shots. That really hurt us at the rim. When you’ve got a 6-7 eraser in there that can do the things that he does — jumps real well, real athletic — that affects us around the rim. Then you’ve got to hit some shots.”

The chances came at the foul line. The Bears missed the front end of three 1-and-1s and then came up empty on back-to-back possessions when they were down five. 

“We just couldn’t seem to catch up,” Whaley said. “We couldn’t hit the big shot.”

With that, the Bears core of seniors, including Whaley, Pope, Cody Underwood — who had seven points — Bailey Fields and Micah Baker saw their careers come to a close. Wright said the words are never easy; the end is always painful except for the elite few that win a championship. 

“It’s kind of hard to believe,” Underwood said. “I’ve been playing this game since I was five. It’s kind of hard to think that, really, this is the last school game that I’ll play for Sevier County.”