Conspiracy theorists might raise an eyebrow to hear that the two best boys teams, record-wise, competing in this week's Wildcat Classic at Hixson High were fated to meet one another in the first round Thursday.
But Central's Rick Rogers and Lincoln County's Chad Tipps are both smart enough to know that, should they survive the first round, the three-day Classic might be theirs for the taking.
And with that, the trap was sprung.
The veteran Purple Pounders unleashed a full-count trap on their overconfident opponent, scoring 14 of the game's first 17 points en route to a 65-44 victory in an afternoon contest at Hixson High School.. The score stood 30-11 at the half, the Mustangs managing only three total field goals in the first 16 minutes.
But that was just one of seven games scheduled for Day One of the event. Other boys results included Warren County smothering Lookout Valley 42-29 and a D'Mondta Smith-led Hixson pulling away from Rhea County in the second half for a 63-49 victory.
In the day's girls contests, Rhea County had to come from behind to defeat Central 36-28; Lincoln County routed Lookout Valley 63-32 and Loretto handled Warren County in the final moments 41-38. In the late girls game, the game of the day, Fort Payne beat the buzzer with a game-winning layup, 37-35.
Today's 8-game slate tips off at 10 a.m. with Central's girls facing Lookout Valley. Lincoln County boys are going to meet Sale Creek – a late addition to the tournament – at 11:30, followed by the Warren County and host Hixson girls at 1, and the Lookout Valley and Rhea County boys at 2:30.
In the winners bracket, the Rhea County girls play Lincoln County at 4, Northwest Whitfield makes its tournament debut against Central at 5:30, the Loretto girls and Fort Payne play at 7 and the Warren County and host Hixson boys wrap the day at 8:30.
No prep possible for Pounder pressure?
“We knew we had to have this game,” Central's Rogers explained Thursday's strong showing, “and we played our starters a lot more than we wanted to. But the reality about our pressure is, unless you have the right kind of players, you can't practice for it, and there's no other way to prepare for it.'
The Purple Pounders are, hands down, the most experienced team in the city with four four-year starters who who click seamlessly. Earlier this month, realizing that their evolution as a team had reached that point, Rogers installed a relentless full-court trap that has already netted them victories over Howard and Soddy-Daisy.
And with the majority of the coaching community enjoying the Best of Preps event at Chattanooga State, the damage it did to Lincoln County (7-5) were largely unseen. With Central point guard Dewaun Swafford set for maximum disruption, the Purple Pounders (7-3) wasted no time. Robert Cobb, who put eight points up in the quarter, hit four different shots as the Central lead grew to 18-4 after a quarter.
Lincoln County coach Tipps burned two times out in the first five minutes and slammed a clipboard onto the deck during a third. But while he addressed his team's concerns, Rogers had a couple of his own.
“The trap was working well, but too well,” he said. “At the half, our three best players were sitting next to me with three fouls apiece. Our bench played well, but we couldn't afford to starting starters. So we went to a softer version of it, where we were not making any real contact in the trap. It was a much even half, but we could afford that.”
Lincoln County got 10 points apiece from B.J. Thompson and Justin Blackwell in the second half, but the duo combed for only three in the first half.
Cobb's 17 points led the Purple Gang, but the go-to guy in the second half was playmaker Swafford, who hit 7-of-13 foul shots and scored nine of his 14 points. Jerome Stewart added 10 points off the bench as Rogers subbed much more liberally with two more tournament games looming.
Northwest Whitfield, missing during the day's, will be just as big an unknown Lincoln County. Rogers will take his chances.
“Never had this kind of talent on a team,” he said. “Not that many people we play will, either.”
Smith dominates Golden Eagles
There haven't been a lot of grins in Hixson's locker room in 2012. But if the inspired performance of senior D'Mondta Smith is a sign of things to come, 2013 is going to be a very good year for the Wildcats.
The 6-4 senior capped the seven-game schedule Thursday with a 23-point, 17-rebound effort that left a scrappy Rhea effort in the dust. Smith finished strong, scoring 11 points in the Wildcats' 24-point fourth quarter while his 17 rebounds marked a career-best number.
“He gives us that kind of effort every night. The other kids aren't shooting around him,” said Hixson coach Alex Disbrow. “Tonight, some other people scored.”
After an eight-point first quarter far too indicative of the Wildcats' 3-9 start to the season, they got on track thanks to scrappy shooting guard Chandler Abbott, who knocked down three open 3-pointers en route to a 12-point night. The rest of turnaround was a credit to the defense, which allowed only six points in the second period to allow a seven-point Hixson lead to be taken into intermission.
“We've lost a lot of close games,” said Disbrow, who pointed out an earlier two-point loss to Rhea and an overtime setback to Howard as some of the closest. “We've got to built on this Friday, or this good feeling goes away.”
Nick McWhorter led the Golden Eagles 19 with 19 points, while Jalen Smith finished up with 11.
Jacket rally too little, too soon.
Warren County held Lookout Valley to just 13 first half points, but saw a double-digit lead reduced to seven early in the fourth quarter. But Valley's energy reserves ran out quickly and Coach Joe Galloway's team managed only four points in the fourth quarter.
Kendall Rutledge was Mr. Consistency for Warren County (9-9) with 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Ft. Payne beats buzzer, Lady Wildcats
Fort Payne's Lexi Stoner kept her cool when her team had apparently fallen behind, going end to end to hit a game-winning layup with 1.2 seconds left, 37-35. That followed a game-tying bucket by Hixson's Marissa Hill that was put on the scoreboard as a 3-pointer but was later clarified as a deuce.
Bad way to start a day for Central's girls
The Lady Pounders had designs on upsetting Rhea County's lunch with a morning win, led by six points after a quarter. But Central hit only 3 of 14 free throws, which told the tale of the Lady Golden Eagles improving to 13-2. Julia Brown led the winners with 11 points, while Sandrea Sylman's 12 was tops for Central.
Lady Jackets can't crack Lincoln press
A formidable press kept Lookout Valley from any kind of offensive attack, and Lincoln County added eight 3-point shots for good measure. Elizabeth Faulker hit 3 of them en route to 13 points, while teammate Cortney Storey led all scorers with 15.
Lincoln County 4 7 17 16 – 44
Central 18 12 18 17 – 65
LINCOLN CO. (44) – Talley-Hyde 1, Christian 6, Lewter, B.J. Thompson 11, J. Thompson 3, Justin Blackwell 12, Jean, Thompson 3, Hadley 2, Jones 2, Grimes 3, Boyd, Malone 4.
CENTRAL (65) – Dewuan Swafford 14, Robert Cobb 17, Hill 3, Morgan 7, Holley 9, Jerome Stewart 10, Montgomery 1, Billingsley, Smith 2, Lewis, Tiller, McKenzie.
3-point goals: LC 2 (Christian, Grimes); Central 4 (Stewart 2, Hill, Morgan). Records: Central 7-3, Lincoln County 7-5.
Hixson 8 16 15 24 – 63
Rhea County 11 6 13 19 – 49
HIXSON (63) – Alameda, Nelson 6, Q. Smith, D'Mondta Smith 23, Nunley, Hayes 6, Diaz 9, Chandler Abbott 12, Novene 7, Glass, Wilkey.
RHEA CO. (49) – Hill 6, Jalen Smith 11, Harrison 4, N. Patterson, D. Patterson 2, Nick McWhorter 19, Hunter 5, Loden, Jenkins 2, Downs, Hill.
3-point goals: Hixson 3 (Abbott 3); RC 1 (Hunter); Records: Hixson 4-9, RC 5-9.
Warren County 13 11 9 9 – 42
Lookout Valley 6 7 12 4 – 29
WARREN CO. (42) – League 4, Garden 7, Kendall Rutledge 15, Tucker Smith 11, Morales 4, Lewis 1, Clark, Ward, Taylor, Kelley.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (29) – Clounch, Dozier 7, Morris 1, Jones 1, Kendall Parham 9, Pickett 3, Taylor 8, Sanders, Yarbrough, Brown.
3-point goals: WC 3 (Rutledge 2, Garden); LV 1 (Pickett). Records: WC 9-9, LV 2-10.
Central 14 3 2 9 – 28
Rhea Co. 8 11 7 10 – 36
CENTRAL (28) – Jones 1, McReynolds, Rogers, Davis, Powell, Sandrea Sylman 12, India Corley 10, Mitchell 5.
RHEA CO. (36) – Rivis, Loden, Freeman 1, Miles 6, Boyd 3, Wallis 7, Purser, Thurman 2, Julie
Brown 11, Thompson 4.
3-pt. Goals: Central 1 (Sylman); RC none.
Lookout Valley 8 10 6 8 – 32
Lincoln County 17 16 22 8 – 63
LOOKOUT VALLEY (32) – Elexia Foster 11, Walker 2, Mitchell 5, Hayley McBee 10, Hoge, Hall, Evans 4.
LINCOLN CO. (63) – Miller 2, McCormick, Cortney Storey 15, Higgins 6, Buchanan 5, King 6, Slayton 6, Hone 3, Graham, Elizabeth Faulkner 13, Watson 3, Fenner 4.
3-pt goals: LV 1 (Foster); LC 8 (Faulkner 3, Slayton 2, Storey, Hone, Watson. Records: Lincoln County 12-3; Lookout Valley 1-8.
Fort Payne 10 10 9 8 – 37
Hixson 10 6 5 14 – 35
FORT PAYNE (37) – Bain, Stiefel 9, Lacey 5, Storer 8, Kennington Nolan 13, McElrath 2, Chappell, Owen, Townsend, Gardner.
HIXSON (35) – Marissa Hill 11, Taylor 7, White, Harmon 7, Massengale 4, Staten 4, Nelson 6, McClellan.
3-point goals: FP 4 (Nolan 3, Lacey); Hixson.none. Records: Fort Payne 4-11, Hixson 4-6.
Loretto 41, Lincoln County 38