The second-ranked Science Hill Lady Hilltoppers’ Tianna Tarter-less exit from the regional tournament via a 52-43 loss to Morristown West on Monday would seem to have abruptly ended an era of excellence for the boys’ and girls’ programs.
The Lady 'Toppers ended the season 31-1. They were ranked No. 22 nationally and expected to have at least a puncher’s chance against top-ranked Blackman with Tarter, a senior point guard, and fellow senior Gabby Lyon, a 6-foot post who’s signed with Middle Tennessee.
But Tarter received two technical fouls after being whistled for a personal foul with Science Hill leading Seymour 71-35 with three minutes left in its regional opener on Saturday. Consequently, she was suspended for Monday’s season-ending loss, and plenty of criticism ensued concerning the technical knockout.
Why did first-year coach Keith Turner have her in the game while leading by 36 points so late, many asked. Why didn’t the official use more discretion to a non-profane reaction? Why was Tarter so wound up in a blowout?
Some saw Science Hill’s misfortune as karma calling after the Lady 'Toppers made “garbage time” against Daniel Boone a pressing matter in the district tournament.
The regional exit unceremoniously ended the most impressive era in program history. The Lady Hilltoppers finished state runners-up last year and the year before after reaching the state semifinals in 2011.
Five 1,000-point scorers came out the 2013 and ’14 classes in Tarter, Lyon, Shy Copney, Enjelica Reid and Morgan Knack. But the swan song for Tarter and Lyon, arguably the program’s all-time best point guard and post, respectively, ended on a sour note.
One exceptional player returns in rising senior combo guard Keisha Gregory, but Murfreesboro once again looks like a destination instead of an expectation.
Of course, the girls’ program appears to be on solid ground when compared to the boys’ future.
Coach Ken Cutlip has won 300 games in 10 years. His program had a streak of 61 straight regular-season league wins snapped this season.
His teams play hard and execute far more sets than most opponents, though even some proponents think he overcoaches from time to time, particularly in terms of holding the ball at the end of quarters and pulling players quickly after making a mistake.
Critics will also tell you he’s won one state tournament game in 10 years while having players such as Josh Odem, Omar Wattad, Jaylen Allen, Shannon Hale, Will Adams and C.J. Good.
But Cutlip’s primary problem is that a large percentage of the Science Hill supporters do not want him to be the coach – to the point of having players transfer.
The Science Hill family essentially went through a divorce when John Good, a Science Hill assistant and former player, got the David Crockett job last spring. His son Patrick, understandably, transferred to Crockett with him after turning heads as a freshman point guard in a Hilltoppers uniform last season.
Good was only the latest in a talented exodus since Cutlip arrived. Players who left his program and went on to win state titles, Arby’s Classic titles and/or enjoy college careers in football or basketball include Emmanuel Reid, Shannon Hale, Jaylen Allen, Ashlon Adams and Trevonn Fields. Brendan Coleman, whose father played at Science Hill for George Pitts, transferred to Crockett prior to this season, and rising junior Ian Martin is expected to be at Crockett next season.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a my-way-or-the-highway approach, but one might need to be revisited when it’s jamming 11-E and I-26.
There are hard feelings between Science Hill and Crockett that extend into football. Martin should be one of the area’s better defenders on the gridiron the next two years, and he would help the Pioneers win basketball games, too.
Science Hill recently turned in Crockett for perceived recruiting (not Martin), and the TSSAA didn’t take any action.
There are well-intentioned men at both schools and the truths undoubtedly lie somewhere in between.
But the Washington County rivals, not to mention the Science Hill family itself,
appear to be as divided as Science Hill’s nearly new 2,900-seat gym when the top sections are partitioned off, as was the case late in the season.
Crockett will enter the 2014-15 season with a two-game wins streak against Science Hill, and that number could easily swell with Good and company having two years remaining.
Many former Science Hill players now prefer supporting David Crockett, and Science Hill Hall of Famer Damon Johnson is one of Good’s assistants.
Who knows, the next area Class AAA team to reach Murfreesboro might still have some Science Hill flavor.