AFTON — At tournament time, there is no substitution for effort. Hampton turned in a strong four-quarter effort that paid off in a Region 1-A championship.
Not only that, the Bulldogs are one win away from a trip to the state tournament, and a chance to go for that win at home comes along with the region crown.
A balanced attack saw the Bulldogs through to the title with a 56-50 win over rival Cloudland on Thursday night at Chuckey-Doak Middle School.
The two teams split during the regular season, each winning on its home floor. Hampton won the neutral site showdown when it mattered most.
“Regional championships are hard to come by. I’m proud of these guys,” said Hampton coach Ned Smith. “They’ve worked extremely hard in practice. They’ve done a good job. They beat a good team. Cloudland is good, well-coached. I’m proud of my kids.”
Hampton was led by tournament MVP Stanley Valentine with 15 points and nine rebounds. Just getting to this point is a new experience for the sophomore, and he was happy to have done his part.
“It’s a really great feeling,” said Valentine, still enjoying the atmosphere of a packed gymnasium. “I’ve never even played in a game this big. For these guys, they haven’t done anything like this the last three years, so it is really great for us to be able to do this.”
The Bulldogs were balanced throughout, scoring 12 points in each of the first three quarters then dropping 20 in the final period to hold off an attempted rally by the Highlanders.
The game was tied at 12 at the end of the first quarter, and Hampton picked up its pace to hold a 24-19 lead at halftime. The Bulldogs padded their lead to 36-27 by the end of the third, but both teams were just getting warmed up.
Cloudland, led by Zac Benfield with 13 points which included three 3-pointers, scored 23 in the fourth quarter alone to make a game of it and pull within two possessions at 54-50 with under 30 seconds to play. A 20-point surge for the Bulldogs, paced by a 10-point quarter from Cody McClain, was enough to keep Hampton out front and on its way to the title.
Smith said the real difference was the way the Bulldogs took care of the basketball at both ends.
“I thought we had good shot selection. I thought we went inside, outside real well. Cloudland plays pressure defense, and I thought we did a good job of taking care of the ball tonight,” the coach said.
McClain finished the night with 15 points for the Bulldogs. Wesley Murray and Johnny Fields combined for 13 rebounds and three blocked shots.
For Cloudland, Potter had 15 points to lead the scoring. Taylor Whitehead had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Cloudland coach Brandon Carpenter said the Highlanders have to come back strong Monday night when they hit the road to play in the TSSAA Sectionals.
“We just have to go back to work tomorrow and get ready for Wartburg,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough place to play. We’ve gone on the road and won before.”
Smith said Hampton is happy to be hosting a sectional game where the Bulldogs will take on Grace Christian.
“Playing at home … you are a big time favorite when you can play at home,” he said.
For Valentine, this is a new experience, one he is enjoying. He hopes it’s a feeling the Bulldogs can keep rolling all the way to Murfreesboro.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Valentine said. “There is a lot of pressure, but we are going to be back in the gym tomorrow getting at it. The goal is to win the state title. We aren’t satisfied yet.”