Looking back to look forward at state tourney
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (email@example.com)
Maybe it’s that gritty effort. Maybe it’s that never quit attitude.
Something about this Maryville boy’s team seems eerily reminiscent of coach Mark Eldridge’s first Rebel squad that sneaked into the state tournament quarterfinals and shocked us all.
I remember Eldridge’s first team pretty well and not just for the general havoc they wrought to our office schedule about this time six years ago. While they did, in fact, make a quite memorable wreck to then sports editor John Brice’s schedule for the first week of spring sports, that team was the one that had a trio of streaky shooters, a rotation of posts that seemed either too big or too young for an effective inside-outside game against the likes of the state elite and had its X-factor scorer still hobbling on a bad wheel from football.
It was a mild surprise that they went to Science Hill and won 57-54 behind Jordan Damron’s free throws to seal it in the state sectional. One glance at the bracket and seeing Maryville’s gigantic-looking seven losses — in comparison to the other members of the Elite Eight — and the duration of the stay in MTSU didn’t appear like it would last all that long. While everyone else turned to the outdoors or the NCAAs, which had already started, our in-house Midstater was dispatched for what was presumed to be a one-night stay with the fam to cover the end of the Rebel run.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to finality. Maryville pulled out the 73-68 overtime win over Bradley Central. Minus leading scorer Kent Basile, who had fouled out, a 9-2 run over the final 2:47 behind Jay Reynolds, Wes Lambert and capped by Tyler Maples free throws, Maryville secured a spot in the Final Four.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, err umm office, it got a little tense. Brice was already in Ohio to cover the Vols first-round game, Leonard Butts was leaving for the Lady Vols tourney date in Pittsburgh, Pa., and I was supposed to be holding down the fort, er umm, office, until Alan Yarborough got back from MTSU to help with baseball, softball and soccer.
But the Rebels had drawn a three-loss White Creek team in the Friday semis, so the chances were Alan would be back by Saturday. Instead, as UT was busy setting an NCAA record with a 121-point outburst against Long Beach State, Maryville rallied twice in the first half and Eldridge used his long bench to run the Cobras — whose starters played until they fouled out — out of gas.
And so, spring sports took a side seat and after Saturday’s paper announcing the date in the finals with Clarksville headed to the press, I was in the car headed to MTSU a few hours ahead of a convoy of red-and-black car flags. And the rest was storybook. The Rebels, who had no business even being there, rallied in regulation and manufactured a way to win when the infamous Ryan Click 3-pointer — and the only one he attempted in the tourney — swished though to give the Rebels the title after double overtime.
With a Cinderella epic like that, the story was one of the easiest to tell and most difficult to condense to just 600 words and Alan and I both struggled at side court long after the convoy had headed back to Maryville.
This is a different team and a different year but the similarities to the Rebels’ first basketball title banner are striking.
In 2007, Maryville went through Science Hill to enter the tournament 27-7 with the most losses in the field and a March 15 quarterfinal.
in 2013, Maryville went through Science Hill to enter the tournament 27-7 with the most losses in the field and a March 13 quarterfinal.
No one picked the Rebels to be there then, nobody picked them to be there now.
But that isn’t what makes this team so similar to the 2007 squad. It’s that gritty effort, that never-quit attitude and that belief in each other.
Regardless of if this season ends Wednesday or Friday or Saturday, there will be no doubt about that.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com