Eagles lower the boom on Grainger
Just days out of hosting the District 2-AAA tournament, the Seymour High School basketball teams couldn’t have gotten a much better effort in a pair of non-district games than they did Friday night.
The Lady Eagles (16-13 overall) put up a great fight against the state’s No. 1 AA team, the Grainger Lady Grizzlies, in a narrow 52-44 loss, and the boys earned their fourth-straight victory with a 68-41 pounding of the Grainger boys squad.
Coach Brian Jessie’s Eagles (17-11 overall) played one of their most complete games to date in the win over the Grizzlies (14-14 overall), as the team punished Grainger down low early and then used 3-pointers, transition buckets and more firepower inside to polish them off in a huge third-quarter run.
“When you work inside out, especially with our group and the way D.J. and Gunner played, (things go well),” Jessie said. “It was one of those nights, where everything went well.”
Senior D.J. Griffin had a game-high 23 points, including a monster 18-point first half that included a heroic alley-oop slam that put his team up 29-15 midway through the second quarter.
“I felt like it was important for us to start out strong,” Griffin said. “It was a big thing for the crowd to see us play hard and get them behind us. I figured if we played hard, we could get them into it.”
The crowd, like the Eagles’ team, was on fire as the Blue and Gold held a commanding 35-19 lead at intermission.
Grainger cut the lead to 12 points early in the third quarter, but the Eagles — sparked by an Ethan Parks 3-pointer — went on a 17-2 run over the next couple of minutes, including a 14-0 stretch, to build the lead to 50-25.
That margin proved insurmountable for the Grizzlies, and Seymour got plenty of valuable varsity minutes for the end of their bench late en route to the eventual 68-41 final.
After Griffin’s 23, the Eagles’ next highest scorers were Park and Braxton Dockery, with eight points each. Peyton Lee had seven points, while Gunner Gibson added six. Mitchell Jones had five, Matt Dupes had four, Christian Britt notched three, and Nick Sexton and Jake McBrayer rounded things out with two apiece.
The victory gives the Eagles a four-game winning streak heading into the IMAC tournament, which they host next week. Though the Eagles had an eight-game winning streak earlier in the season, there’s little doubt they’re playing their best basketball now.
“Defensively we’re playing as well as we have all year,” Jessie said. “We’re really blessed with the kids we’ve got. They’re really hard workers.
“(And) mentally, I think it’s really good for them (to have the winning streak). We’re playing well.
“We’re going to take the weekend off, and Monday we’re going to come in and get prepared for whoever we’re going to play. I’m excited about the tournament.”
Though the Seymour girls didn’t get the ultimate result they were looking for, playing the undefeated Lady Grizzlies (28-0) to an eight-point ballgame is nothing to sneeze at.
“We finally found the intensity,” Seymour coach Brandi Stallings said. “(And) I’m so proud of them. They focused the last two days (of practice), and they stepped up.
“They’ve not played like this since the first part of December. They just found a different focus. I’ve challenged them the last couple of days, they’ve been practicing hard. I thought they rebounded well tonight, thought they executed.”
Seymour even held a lead in the second quarter against the No. 1 team in the state sportswriters’ AA poll.
“We were being patient, taking our time and looking for the open person,” Stalling said. “I think we shared the basketball really well in the first half, especially in the second quarter when we took our lead. Lexi (Justus) came up with some steals and some easy buckets, and when we do that, we’re going to be OK.”
In the fourth quarter some early turnovers and missed opportunities ended the Lady Eagles’ chance of a monumental upset, but Stallings didn’t seem to mind too much.
“Grainger’s a good team obviously, they’re ranked No. 1, and it was a great challenge for our kids, and I’ve very proud of them.
“I told them the last few days, ‘Go out and compete, leave it all on the floor, and I’m going to be proud of you.’ And that’s exactly what they did.
“They did everything I asked them to do, and I think it’ll give us some good momentum going into next week.”
Lexi Justus led the Lady Eagles with 11 points, while Victoria Nelson had eight.
Seymour’s girls are the No. 3-seed in the 2-AAA tournament, and will play Wednesday night at 7:30 against the winner of Morristown East and Cherokee for a shot at Morristown West on Friday.