Kudos to the schedule maker.
The high school basketball regular season comes to close for most area teams Friday night, with district tournament play beginning next week. As a jumping off point for postseason, Maryville’s visit to Alcoa on Friday would be hard to top.
The Tornadoes (18-6, 6-2 District 4AA), who stunned the Rebels, 73-55, at James Campbell Gymnasium last month, come in one of the region’s hottest teams. Wins over Christian Academy of Knoxville, Fulton, Scott, Kingston and Loudon the last two weeks had Alcoa entering a Wednesday contest at Stone Memorial needing a win to secure the District 4AA title and the top seed in next week’s league tournament.
Maryville, by contrast, is too far back to catch District 4AAA frontrunners Bearden and Knox West. After a succession of close losses the last seven days, the Rebels are sure to arrive at Alcoa smarting, the blowout the Tornadoes dealt them three weeks ago fresh in their minds.
Intra-county rivalry games are never to be taken lightly, Alcoa coach Micah Marsh, a down-to-the-wire, 62-59 win over William Blount’s Governors on Monday serving as a perfect example.
William Blount has struggled somewhat this season in replacing school all-time leading scorer Micah Ballard, but the Governors are assembling an ample cache of weapons as post season nears. Senior Ryan Rice is a terrific playmaker at the point and a quick, potentially lethal, jumpshooter. Forwards Pete Kenny and Mikal Parrish both come equipped with inside/outside scoring. Junior Matt Connatser, a veritable skyscraper at the 3-point line, is simply unguardable at 6-foot-7 when he gets it going.
“They had some other guys that shot it well, too,” Marsh said. “It was (William Blount’s) senior night. They’re going to want to go out with a bang. I knew coming in it was going to be a battle.”
The Tornadoes have a varied and ample ability to answer. Junior Tre Tate, the reigning district tournament most valuable player, has blossomed into the county’s top point guard this season. Quick to basket off the drive, he’s got no shortage of shooters in senior Steven Isom, junior Gabe Dando and sophomore Kenny Dean at the forwards. In the middle, junior Matt Shown has become a force.
“We mesh a lot better than we did last year,” Shown said. “We play a lot different as a team defensively.”
Each made his presence known on Monday. Dando led all scorers with 15 points, with Shown adding 12, including a loud, second-quarter dunk. Isom, Dean and Tate finished with 11 each.
As proved the case with the Rebels, however, it was once again defense that held off the Governors.
The Tornadoes pried open a four-point lead after a quarter. Connatser began the second stanza with deep bomb from the right wing and the Governors charged. At halftime, it was still a four-point game, Alcoa holding a 27-23 lead. William Blount whittled the advantage to only three, 38-35, to start the fourth.
“You’ve got to give it to William Blount,” Marsh said. “They’re a scrappy team, but we did it.”
Inside the final minute, the Tornadoes made good on nine of 10 free throws to begin the week on a high note. How it closes will say much about how ready the Tornadoes and Rebels are for the coming postseason.