comments powered by Disqus
After going more than 49 months without a regular-season loss in the conference, it seemed like Science Hill went that long without a field goal while having its 61-game wins streak snapped convincingly on Tuesday at Science Hill.
Tennessee High held Science Hill to one point in the first quarter and led by double digits the vast majority of the final 26 minutes en route to a 59-44 victory.
Science Hill’s first field goal didn’t come until Calvin Songster made a jumper early in the second quarter, and that drought-stopper had to be rained in from some 25 feet over the Vikings’ annoying zone defense.
Perhaps more disturbing for Science Hill was the fact that it didn’t shoot any free throws after Malik McGue made 1 of 2 with the game 20 seconds old. Probing the Vikings’ everpresent zone defenses proved all the more difficult with McGue’s minutes limited by foul trouble.
The Hilltoppers have enough perimeter shooting. But a scarcity of slashers frequently makes foul shots hard to generate, particularly when they aren’t getting transition opportunities out of their press, as was the case against the Vikings’ experienced guards.
“We handled the press very, very well,” Tennessee High coach Roby Witcher said. “We actually used it as a way to score.”
The bigger, more experienced Vikings showed up eager to clear the air after coughing up an eight-point third-quarter lead in last month’s loss to Science Hill at Viking Hall.
And they finished strong in the rematch – even after the outcome was decided. Feisty 5-foot-10 senior guard Zak Kitzmiller, a football player who plays with a chip on his shoulder pads, symbolically punctuated the decisive victory by flooring 6-foot-4 Daniel Sweeney with an overzealous screen in the backcourt with 3:10 remaining and the Vikings leading, 50-30.
The fact Kitzmiller was whistled for a foul appeared to be immaterial among Vikings players and fans, who were even more excited when 6-foot-1 junior wing James Shuff threw down a dunk in the closing seconds.
“That just iced the cake,” said Vikings 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior Chase Branscomb, who scored 15 points.
Science Hill’s wins streak was remarkable. It hadn’t lost to a league opponent during the regular season since a 58-56 home loss to Sullivan South in the old Topper Palace on Dec. 4, 2009, and the Hilltoppers had won 11 straight regular-season league games before the South loss.
Granted, the 61 wins didn’t come at the expense of players the caliber of Skip Brown, Derrick Hord, Shane Carnes, Marc Campbell, Elvin Browne and JaMichael Mills, but the streak grew and grew while getting inspired opponents’ best shots night after night, year after year.
The winning streak is believed to be the second longest in the area, at least in the modern era, behind Boones Creek’s 67-game feat under Bobby Snyder in the late 1960s. And it endured the premature exits of many who helped or could’ve helped build it: Jaylen Allen (Christ School, Wofford), Shannon Hale (Christ School, Alabama), Trevon Fields (Virginia Episcopal), Patrick Good (David Crockett), Brendan Coleman (David Crockett).
But the run was living on borrowed time this season. Certainly, no one was picking Science Hill to go through another regular season unblemished.
Indeed, Dobyns-Bennett was the coaches’ preseason pick to win the Big Seven Conference. And at least one coach picked Science Hill third behind D-B and Tennessee High.
Will D-B smell blood in the water after the Vikings raid?
“We’ve got really good kids and I feel like we’re capable of winning, you know, against anybody in this league,” Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. “But … this team has to bring everything they’ve got, you know, in order to win ballgames. … The question remains, how does this team handle this, how do they respond and how do they come back for the next five games in the league. That’s the big question mark.
“We’ll find out what’s in that locker room and what we’re made of over the next five games.”
Beating the Indians on the road will be a chore. D-B, which features 6-foot-7 post John Fulkerson, didn’t have impressive 6-foot-4 senior Tyleke Love when Science Hill defeated it 57-53 on Dec. 3 in Johnson City.
Charlie Morgan’s D-B also has a physical presence in Paul Gadson and the athleticism in a backcourt that includes Makale Foreman to negate the Hilltoppers’ pressure defense, although that wasn’t the case in the first meeting. Poise has often been difficult for the talented Indians to grasp.
“They were the preseason favorite, and rightly so,” Cutlip said. “We’ll have to play the best game of the year … just to have a chance to win the game up in Kingsport. If we’re a step slow in Kingsport we’ll get embarrassed.”
But if the Hilltoppers win, a league title will be all but clinched. And six straight conference crowns is a streak Cutlip and company would’ve gladly taken in November.