When the basketballs stopped bouncing at the 16 AAA District Championship games at Central High School last Friday, Whitehaven High School stood as the champs among the boys and girls teams.
Girls: Whitehaven 58, Central 55 (OT)
Fresh off a SCIAA Championship win, the Whitehaven Lady Tigers wanted to add another championship to their collection. They secured that prize with a 58-55 overtime win over the Lady Warriors.
The game had extensive runs and droughts. The Lady Warriors opened with a 6-0 run, but the Lady Tigers quickly responded with a 12-0 run of their own en route to a 14-9 lead at the end of the first period break.
The Tigers pushed the lead to double digits, but the Warriors rode the long ball to come clawing back. Central made four three-pointers in the second half, including one to push the game into overtime (49-49).
The defense of the Tigers held the Warriors scoreless for the first three minutes of overtime and withstood a last second three-point attempt at the buzzer to force another overtime. The Tigers were led by Martina Jones with 18 points and Vertonia Bady with 17 points.
Keria McGhee (15 points), led the Warriors, who made 11 three-pointers in the game. It was the third meeting between the two schools. Whitehaven won all three by four points or less.
Tigers head coach Lynn Smith said, “Great fought game by both teams. We rebounded better. The zone was better for us and it stagnated them.”
The Tigers have been slow starters all season.
“Our MO is slow starts,” Smith said. “We get jitters to start the game. We just haven’t learned to control…being so young.”
Warriors head coach Rashad Haynes said, “We had multiple opportunities, but we just didn’t make the shots early enough to put ourselves in a better position. The effort was there. The energy was there. We just didn’t execute and make the plays we needed to.”
Boys: Whitehaven 60, East 55
The Whitehaven Tigers had lost the previous 10 games against the East Mustangs before the 2019 16 AAA District Championship game. And that was just one of several subplots that played out in Whitehaven’s 60-55 upset of East.
Last season, junior Mathew Murrell’s season ended with an injury suffered in the first game he played against the Mustangs. The district championship game at Central featured Murrell, a top-rated prospect for the Class of 2020, facing off against the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2019, James Wiseman.
The matchup did not disappoint.
In the second half, Murrell scored 19 of his 26 points. Wiseman led all scorers with 32 points, including a four-point play in the closing minutes of the game.
The difference in the game was the balanced attack of Whitehaven. The Tigers got more consistent scoring production from the supporting cast, including 11 points from Jesse Payne. Wiseman had to put the Mustangs on his back with 14 points in the fourth period to give East a shot at winning.
Tigers head coach Faragi Phillips said the win felt good.
“East is a tremendous team with a lot of talent. It was a testament to us to endure the onslaught that he (Wiseman) had in the last stages of the fourth quarter. We have been here before with this team twice before. We led eight out of the 10 quarters. Tonight we had the opportunity to finally close the show.”
When Wiseman made his fourth-quarter push, Phillips said he told his team, “This is what great players do; they will their team.”
Seeing such a performance was good for his team, Phillips said. “So going throughout the rest of the season we will be able to carry each other through. At the end of the day you have to defend and rebound.”
On the play of Murrell, Phillips said, “I think he was pressing a little bit. He is experiencing what it means to beat the other team’s best player and have the other team’s best defender take you out of what you are trying to do. He came through for us. It is an opportunity for him to feel what this environment is like. He made plays at the right time.”
All four teams will host the first round of the Region 8 tournament later this week. The opponents will be determined after the third-place game has been played later this week. The second and third round games will be played at Collierville High School.
PHOTO GALLERY (Photos: Terry Davis)