Teams gear up for 2nd-half drive
As high school basketball reaches what’s typically viewed as the midway point, several teams in Sevier County appear ready for a post-season push.
The Sevier County Bears (15-1) and the Seymour Eagles (13-4) are carrying the top two overall records of any District 2-AAA teams at the halfway point.
The Purple and White team leads the IMAC standings with a perfect 5-0 mark in district action, while the Eagles, at 3-2, are currently fourth in the eight-team league.
Both squads played extremely well in their respective holiday tournaments. The Smoky Bears tallied a perfect 3-0 mark in their Sevierville Winterfest Shootout, culminating in a championship-game win over Murfreesboro Oakland in the tournament’s final game.
At the Renasant Bank Christmas Tournament at Maryville High School, the Bears went 3-1 including a consolation-game win over Nashville’s Maplewood High School on Saturday 64-61.
When the Bears and leading-scorer Devin Schmidt — who averaged 27 ppg in the holiday tournaments —are playing their best, they’re fun to watch. A real post-season run could be a reality.
The Eagles played in their second-annual Christmas Classic at SHS, and ran through Tamassee-Salem (S.C.), Silverdale Academy and Cincinnati Country Day School.
With the three victories the Eagles stretched their winning streak to eight games and claimed the overall title of Classic champs in the pool-play event.
The Blue-and-Gold look improved from last season, when they were beginning to show real signs of life under third-year coach Brian Jessie.
If the team keeps improving, they could put themselves firmly in the top half of the district, guaranteeing a spot against a lower seed in the 2-AAA tournament and a good shot at region for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
The Eagles haven’t won a district tournament game since Feb. 16, 2007.
While the Pigeon Forge Tigers (5-9) didn’t fare well in the Winterfest Shootout in Sevierville, the Orange and Black did rebound to go 2-1 in the Eagles’ Christmas Classic.
The Tigers averaged 78 points per game in that three-game stretch, and knocked off Silverdale Academy 79-72 and The King’s Academy 86-59.
The Tigers aren’t the most physically-gifted team around, but their effort, combined with their completely wide-open style of play make their games entertaining.
I’m expecting a big upset win over a district opponent in the final months of the season, and perhaps a few 30-point games from some of the Tigers’ sharp-shooters. While the PF offense, on a bad night, can look really bad, on a good night they can look great.
Hats off to coach Jonathan Shultz for implementing a different approach that gives his team a chance to compete on any given night.
The two girls teams in action over the past week had tough outings in the stacked tournament at the Johnson City Honda Trailblazer Classic.
The Seymour Lady Eagles (12-6) were hit-and-miss, going 2-2 at the tournament.
After winning their first two games, over Sullivan Central and Johnson County, the Lady Eagles lost to Hampton in the semifinals and Daniel Boone in the consolation game.
The Lady Eagles appear to be one of the best teams in District 2-AAA, which is more wide-open than usual. In fact, Brandi Stalling’s girls are in first-place with a 5-0 mark in conference.
While the Lady Eagles are a young squad, they’ve got some good veteran talent. If everything starts clicking in January, I expect the team to win their first IMAC title.
The Bearettes will have a more difficult road.
Sevier County’s girls (7-9) opened play with a 54-40 win over David Crockett High at the Trailblazer Classic, but then fell in three-straight to Dobyns-Bennett, Smith County and Johnson County.
Since senior point guard Kelsey Wypych suffered a knee injury against Ooltewah in the first round of the Sevierville Winterfest Shootout, the Bearettes have gone 2-4.
If Wypych is done for the year, the Bearettes will have to get All-District-level play the rest of the way from senior Taylor Chapman and sophomore Brittany Tarr.
Chapman and Tarr are the only remaining players on the roster that had meaningful varsity minutes coming into the season, so their leadership is a necessity for the Bearettes to get back over .500 and sustain any sort of run in the district tournament.
Some of the younger girls on the team — which is comprised mainly of sophomores and freshmen — will, to use an oft-quoted coaching phrase, “have to step up.”
The Gatlinburg-Pittman teams and the Pigeon Forge girls have been inactive since the early part of Christmas break.
The G-P squads hosted their annual Smoky Mountain Classic tournament, which had grown this year to 31 teams.
The Lady Highlanders (13-4 overall) had started out the season with a bang, and finished fourth in their bracket at the Classic, which featured the event’s toughest teams.
The girls topped Buckhorn, Ky., in their opening game, 52-46, and then beat Coffee County, 47-45, in the quarterfinal.
In the semifinals the Lady Highlanders met their match against the eventual tournament champion Beech Lady Buccaneers (11-4) by a 57-45 final.
In the consolation game, G-P dropped a 65-59 contest with Station Camp (12-4 overall).
The Lady Highlanders are a talented bunch, and I fully expect them to compete with Fulton and Pigeon Forge for the District 3-AA crown.
They’re currently in first place in the conference with a 5-0 mark, including wins over both the Lady Falcons and Lady Tigers.
And the team should only get better as the season draws on and younger players and newcomers get more familiar with teammates and coach Katie Parton’s system.
The G-P boys, who played in a seven-team, pool-play bracket at the tournament, got over a second-round loss to Richland (Tenn). to go 3-1 at the Classic.
Coach A.J. Bennett’s boys improved to 11-7 on the year with wins over Moore County, DaySpring Academy, and Prestonburg (Ky.).
The scrappy Highlanders are currently 1-4 in District 3-AA play, but they should improve on that in the coming weeks and start to make some headway in the conference standings.