The Lookout Valley boys basketball team led for less than three minutes of Tuesday night's game with Sale Creek, but they had the advantage when it counted: when the final buzzer sounded.
Yellowjacket senior Chris Dixon hit his fourth trey of the night to tie the game at 44 with 2:20 remaining, and Jaylen Bates scored less than a minute later to give host Lookout Valley its first lead since the opening quarter.
The Yellowjackets survived over the final minute to edge the Panthers 48-47 for a wild, thrilling District 4-A victory.
"We played a couple of games this past Friday and last night, and they just looked worn out; they just weren't with it for the first part of tonight's game," said Lookout Valley coach Mike Morton. "I told them they had to play better defensively, and I think they did that in the second half. Sale Creek made a lot of shots, and we just didn't. But I was so proud of my guys because that team last year would've lost that game, but this group believes in themselves."
After shooting the ball well over the past couple of games, Lookout Valley (9-5, 3-1) got off to a slow start against Sale Creek, making just two field goals in the first seven minutes. The Panthers (3-11, 0-3) -- whose record is deceiving as they had won three of their last five games coming into Tuesday night's contest -- wore the net out in the first quarter. Led by Jackson Greer and Chris Wilson, who each had eight points in the period, the Panthers doubled up the Yellowjackets 18-9.
Sale Creek opened up its largest lead of the game at 23-11 with 5:16 to go in the second quarter after a 3-pointer by Hunter Morgan and a basket by Greer. The Yellowjackets finally found their stroke from deep, however, making four 3's in the final four and a half minutes to close the gap to just two points at halftime.
Sale Creek continued its hot shooting to start the third quarter. A 3-pointer from Hunter Loomis and two more triples by Greer -- who had four for the game -- gave the Panthers a 36-27 lead with 5:23 to go in the period.
That's when the Lookout Valley defense began to tighten. After the mild-mannered Morton chastised his team for a lack of hustle in the first half, the Yellowjackets held Sale Creek to just two field goals over the final 13:23.
Said Morton: "I went in at halftime -- first time I've ever done this -- I went in and told them 'Guys, I can't coach hustle. That's all it is, they're beating you up and down the floor. Now I'm going to leave. Me and coach are going to go out here. Y'all figure it out.'"
Down by four points with five minutes to play, it was Dixon with the trifecta to cut the lead to one. After two made free throws by Sale Creek's Blake Nutt, Dixon -- who had just missed a fast-break lay-up moments before -- evened the game with another 3-pointer on the next possession.
"It was fantastic to come back and make the 3-pointer after missing the lay-up; I just had to keep my head in the game," said Dixon. "We just had to get our minds right on defense. Coach told us at halftime we had to play harder and come out with more intensity, and we did."
After Bates hit the lay-up to give Lookout Valley the lead, Ryan Barber extended it to four with two free throws. Wilson made a couple of trips to the free-throw line on the next two Panther possessions, going 3-of-4 to trim the lead back to one.
A turnover on a 5-second call gave Sale Creek the ball back with 26 seconds left, but a steal by Dixon and a foul sent the senior to the line with 11 ticks left on the clock. He missed the front end of the 1-and-1, giving the Panthers one last shot. A runner in the lane didn't go, and the put-back tip was off the mark as the buzzer sounded giving the Yellowjackets the victory.
"It's a wonderful feeling to come back and win like that," said Bates, who scored 11 points, and whose strong, physical frame provided the Yellowjackets with a force on the glass and in the paint defensively. "In game situations like this when we're down, I feel like as a big man I have to take over down low and just destroy people."
"He played a tremendous game tonight," Morton said of his budding sophomore. "I think that's what happens when a guy gets more touches and is fed more regularly. We've been preaching to him that he has to demand the ball more. His confidence has grown so much, and he knew he could get around those guys with his speed. He used to have that one go-to spin move, but now he's developed a move on the baseline and he's started backing people down and using his big, strong body."
Greer had a game-high 18 points, while Wilson finished with 14.
Both teams have important home district games this Friday, with Lookout Valley taking on Arts and Sciences and Sale Creek matching up against Tellico Plains.
Sale Creek Girls 46, Lookout Valley 38: The Lady Panthers, led by Sam Derlak, owned the paint in an eight-point victory over the Lady Yellowjackets. Junior Sam Derlak led the way for Sale Creek with a game-high 22 points, including 8-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line.
"We've been beaten by Lookout Valley both times we've played them the past two years, so this is a really big win for us tonight," said Derlak. "We played great defense from the beginning. It gave us a lot of momentum, and from there it just kind of took off."
Sale Creek (5-8, 2-1) got off to a fast start as they pounded the ball inside and dominated the offensive glass. Derlak got things started inside with a couple of buckets early. When the Lady Yellowjackets (6-10, 2-3) collapsed in the paint to combat the Lady Panthers' significant height advantage, the ball was kicked out to Kobi Jones and Molly Welch, who each made a 3-pointer in the opening period as Sale Creek led 14-5.
"We've had trouble with turnovers and free throws, and tonight we hit our free throws pretty good," said Sale Creek coach, and principal, Tobin Davidson, whose team went 13-of-15 from the charity stripe. "We cut down on our turnovers -- we had a spurt or two where we went brain-dead and threw it all over the yard. But we did a good job of jumping on them early. We had a pretty good defensive plan; Molly Welch did an awesome job playing man-to-man defense (on Lookout Valley's Rainey Barber)."
Held scoreless in the first quarter, Barber finally found her offensive rhythm in the second frame. The senior single-handedly kept her team in the game, scoring all 13 of their points --including two from behind the arc. Derlak and the Lady Panthers kept pace, however, and went into the locker room up 25-18.
Both teams struggled coming out of halftime, combining for just 15 points in the third period. Trailing 35-26 a couple of minutes into the final quarter, senior Maddiey Millraney -- who made six 3-pointers against South Pittsburg on Monday -- knocked down two triples on back-to-back possessions to get her team to within three points -- as close as they'd been since the 2:10 mark in the first quarter.
But in the end, Sale Creek's play inside, particularly from Derlak, was too much for the Lady Yellowjackets. The tall post player showed tremendous touch from the outside as well, often stepping out to the short corner and knocking down the mid-range jumper with proficiency.
"I've worked on my outside game a good deal," said Derlak, whose mom played at Florida State University. "I played more post the past few years, but I've played more from the wing this year. Inside I'm more dominant, but tonight I really just tried to come out and do my best at everything to get the win for the team."
The Lady Yellowjackets, playing with just seven active players due to injury, tried to slow down Sale Creek's dominance inside by packing into the paint in a zone defense, and their limited numbers kept them from being able to press until the fourth quarter.
"I thought my girls played hard, we just didn't have enough people inside to stop their post players," said Lookout Valley coach Kristen Clounch. "I knew if we got extended in our half-court defense that they would just feed the ball inside. But we couldn't press until the fourth quarter because I knew it would wear the girls out."
Barber finished the game with 18 points, while she and Derlak were the only players from either team in double figures.
GIRLS GAME SUMMARY
SALE CREEK 14 11 8 13 -- 46
LOOKOUT VALLEY 5 13 7 13 -- 38
SALE CREEK (46) – Sam Derlak 22, Jones 6, Phillips 5, Welch 4, Preston 4, K. Morgan 3, L. Morgan 2.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (38) – Rainey Barber 18, M. Millraney 9, P. Millraney 6, Simmons 3, Crownover 2, Reed.
3-POINT GOALS: Sale Creek 3 (Jones 2, Welch); Lookout Valley 5 (M. Millraney 3, Barber 2).
BOYS GAME SUMMARY
SALE CREEK 8 9 12 8 -- 47
LOOKOUT VALLEY 9 16 9 14 -- 48
SALE CREEK (47) – Jackson Greer 18, Chris Wilson 14, Loomis 8, Morgan 3, Brown 2, Nutt 2, Penny, Roberts, Smith.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (48) – Chris Dixon 12, Jaylen Bates 11, Barber 7, Ray 7, Cooper 6, J. Dixon 5, Janeway, Walker, Canales, Gilley.
3-POINT GOALS: Sale Creek 6 (Greer 4, Loomis, Morgan); Lookout Valley 7 (C. Dixon 4, Ray 2, Barber.
(Contact Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com)