Darrell Barnwell got a technical foul while his Science Hill Lady Hilltoppers were leading Tennessee High 48-24 midway through the third quarter in Wednesday’s Region 1-AAA championship – and his father, Herschel, was surely somewhere smiling at his son’s spirit.
Herschel, 70, died Wednesday morning after a year and a half battle with lung cancer, but he’d insisted his son continue coaching during Science Hill’s quest for a state title.
So Barnwell did, and his Lady ‘Toppers responded with a 74-43 victory.
“It’s been a long day or so,” Barnwell said. “I mean, we knew this was coming, you know, but the finality of it at this point is, you know, tough. The kids have been really good. I talked to my mother today and she expressed that … he didn’t want to be the reason I wasn’t able to be here to coach a game.”
It was the third straight regional title for Science Hill (32-3). The Lady ‘Toppers will host Farragut in the sectional on Saturday. Tennessee High (26-6) will visit Bearden, which defeated Farragut in overtime.
It was obvious early Science Hill wouldn’t have to work overtime. It outscored the Lady Vikings 15-3 in the first quarter. Five different Lady ‘Toppers scored their first five baskets, and Science Hill blocked five shots in the opening 5 1/2 minutes.
Tennessee High didn’t have much better luck with the shots that weren’t rejected, especially early. They were 1 of 14 from the field and 1 of 4 from the foul line in the first quarter. The foul line has become an adventure. The Lady Vikings missed 23 of 35 free throw attempts after going 19-for-40 on Monday.
Junior point guard Tianna Tarter led Science Hill with 19 points and seven assists. Junior post Gabby Lyon had 18 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. Senior wing Morgan Knack made three 3-pointers en route to 13 points and senior forward Enjelica Reid, the tournament MVP, scored 10.
The Lady ‘Toppers were inspired by their coach’s courage.
“We definitely came together and really wanted to do this for Coach Barnwell and his family,” Reid said. “He told us before the game that he loved us like his family members.”
Tennessee High coach Barry Wade empathized with Barnwell. Though he didn’t know it until afterward, Wade said his father Paul died of a heart attack at 52 years of age while Wade was coaching a football game.
“I’m sure Darrell did the thing tonight that his dad wanted him to do,” Wade said. “And so I have a heavy heart for him. I know it was tough being out here tonight, but he was here leading his kids like the class-act guy he is.”
Senior guard Ashlee Mitchell, a VCU signee, led Tennessee High with 17 points despite 5-of-17 foul shooting.
Middle Tennessee State signee Shy Copney had nine points and two blocked shots for Science Hill. Fellow senior Shae Smith also had two blocks.
“It’s just the same as every year,” Barnwell said, “when we get in tournament play our kids, defensively, turn it up another level. The first 15 minutes of the game we held them to 10 points.”
Barnwell and company never lost their intensity, as evidenced by him picking up the technical foul while Science Hill led by 24 points with 3:52 left the third quarter.
Granted, it was after one of 50 fouls that were called (25 for each team). Sixty-eight free throws were attempted.
“Probably, under other circumstances,” Barnwell said while managing a bit of a smile, “I might not have been as upset, I guess.”
Barnwell said he will spend Thursday and Friday at his parents’ home in Crossville. He’ll miss Friday’s practice, but will coach Saturday before returning to Crossville for the funeral Sunday.