State bids on line for five area teams

Douglas Fritz • Mar 3, 2013 at 6:37 PM

One more win is all it takes to get to Murfreesboro.

Five area boys basketball teams will get their shot tonight. Included in that mix is Science Hill, which will battle Maryville for the second straight year in a Class AAA sectional contest.

All games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Also trying to earn a berth in next week's state tournament are Elizabethton and Sullivan East in Class AA. The Cyclones will travel to take on Corryton Gibbs while the Patriots will be at home to battle perennial power Knox Fulton.

In Class A, Hampton is at home to take on Knoxville's Grace Christian Academy while Cloudland hits the road to battle Wartburg Central.

Here's the game-by-game rundown:

Maryville (27-7) at Science Hill (37-2) — The Hilltoppers likely won't ever take the Rebels for granted at this stage of the season.

Maryville pulled off what was considered a big upset at Science Hill in 2007, but the Rebels went on to win the Class AAA state championship. Way back in 1992, Maryville pulled off a road shocker, beating the Hilltoppers at Freedom Hall.

Last year Science Hill defeated the Rebels, but it was a tightly contested 69-60 decision.

The Rebels return all of their main players from that team, including senior guard T.J. Kimble. He had 20 points and nine rebounds in the Region 2-AAA final loss to Oak Ridge.

Maryville will also get leading scorer and rebounder Clark McCall back in the lineup tonight. McCall, who is averaging 14 points per game, missed the Oak Ridge contest with a stomach bug.

Oak Ridge scored the first 16 points of that game, and won by 17. Bryan Landers is another key player for the Rebels.

“They have a couple of 6-5 kids, and they will put five on the floor who can all shoot the three,” said Hilltoppers' head coach Ken Cutlip. “They can stretch the defense. They have a very solid ballclub.

“Kimble is their best athlete. He's the kind of guy when it's time to take over, he takes over. He gave us fits last year.”

Cutlip said he is concerned with Maryville's size and strength.

“We will definitely have our hands full,” he said. “Our ability to generate turnovers and get transition baskets will be a key. That will be hard for us to do.”

Science Hill will counter Maryville's attack with a host of solid players, including senior guards C.J. Good and Will Adams. The duo has been a part of varsity teams that have totaled 134 victories. The all-time Science Hill record is 137, which is held by Jovann Johnson.

Elizabethton (25-7) at Gibbs (24-8) — Both teams are experienced age-wise, but neither has been to this stage in recent history.

The Cyclones are in the sectional for the first time since 2003, which was their last trip to the state tournament. Meanwhile, Gibbs won its first region title since 1987 with an overtime upset of Knox Fulton, and will be making its first sectional appearance since 1990.

Senior guard Jay Cade is the main man for Gibbs. He had 25 points in the win over Fulton, and is averaging 21.6 per game.

Cade is complemented by senior post Hunter Hopson (15 points per game). The Eagles' top six players are seniors.

Elizabethton counters with junior point guard Zeke Clark, who is surrounded by senior posts Michael Wagner and Will Robinson, along with senior combo guard Zach Norwood. Senior guards Alex Baughman and Aaron Miller are also threats.

Knox Fulton (23-8) at Sullivan East (27-7) — Beating the Falcons at the state tournament is one thing. Beating them in the sectional is another.

Fulton is 7-0 in sectional contests dating back to 2001. In five of those seasons, the Falcons lost in the first round of the state tournament. In the other two (2008-09) they won the Class AA state title.

Meanwhile, East is just trying to get there. The Patriots are at home in the sectional for the third time in four years, but they lost to Strawberry Plains Carter 57-54 in overtime in 2010, and lost 52-44 to Alcoa last year.

Kentel Williams and Blake Golden are among the top players for the Falcons. East will counter with two-time region MVP David Casaday, and 6-9 post Jonathan King.

Grace Christian (22-10) at Hampton (21-14) — It was supposed to be a banner year for the Bulldogs, then it wasn't. Now it can be again.

After struggling to a fourth-place finish in the Watauga Valley Conference, and forced into the play-in game for the district tournament, the Bulldogs then lost to Unaka in the district semifinals.

However, Hampton won the one that counted, beating Unaka in the region semifinals and then knocking off Cloudland in the title game.

Head coach Ned Smith guided Cloudland to state tournament berths in 2006, 2007 and 2009. He was an assistant on Hampton's 2011 state tournament qualifier.

Smith said Grace should present a strong challenge.

“They have good-sized kids,” said Smith. “They are lanky kids, who shoot it well from the outside. They've got a good post kid, and they play a lot of 1-3-1 defense.”

Smith said his team just needs to do the expected things.

“It's always taking care of the ball and rebounding,” he said. “That's two big things, and whoever knocks down shots.”

Among the key players for Grace are Nathan Silver and Luke Shepherd. Silver had 18 points in the first half of the Region 2-A final loss to Wartburg. Shepherd totaled 21 points in that game.

Hampton counters with rebounding machine Stanley Valentine along with Wesley Murray, Cody McClain and 6-8 post Johnny Fields.

Cloudland (24-11) at Wartburg (26-4) — With Class A Mr. Basketball finalist Alex Fountain, it's easy to figure where a lot of Cloudland's attention needs to be.

Fountain had 23 points in the win over Grace, and was chosen as the Region 2-A tournament MVP. However, Austin Langley added 17 points and Jesse Dyer had 16, so the Bulldogs have plenty of firepower.

The same can be said for scrappy Cloudland, which starts with smooth guard Dylan McClellan and continues with Zac Potter, Taylor Whitehead and Devin Whitehead.

The Highlanders are seeking their third consecutive trip to the state tournament under head coach Brandon Carpenter.

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