The Loudon High School Redskins basketball team (3-2, 0-1 District 5-2A) rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter Friday but fell short in the waning seconds against the Polk County High School Wildcats in the first District 5-2A game of the season.
LHS boys head basketball coach Josh Graves knew his team was in for a fight, especially with starter Drew Jackson missing from the lineup.
“I thought not having Drew (Jackson) hurt just for his athleticism and his defensive capability because they have two guys that can get their own shot anytime,” he said. “We knew coming in they would be one of the best teams in the district just with the experience and the players they have. We had some guys step up in the defensive department that they normally wouldn’t with Drew there, and that really helped us. We were down nine with four minutes left, and that was the one point in the game where we got tough most, mentally and physically, and found a way to claw back.”
The Redskins missed several open-shot opportunities and struggled at the line, missing 11 free throws in the game.
Junior point guard Donovan Blankenship led the team with 19 points, while senior guard Lucas Bivens added 13.
“They’re two top-notch kids,” Graves said. “Lucas is one of our senior leaders and does the dirty work for us, and on top of that, he scores the ball, too. He kindly tweaked his ankle in the first half, and I think that affected him throughout the game — he wasn’t as mobile as he would’ve liked to be, but he’s a tough, gutsy kid. He found a way to finish the best way he could. Donovan, what can you say about that kid? He’s our proven guy from last year. He does the majority of the ball handling duties ... obviously, Keaton (Harig) and Gunter (Millsaps) have helped with that some, but the majority of the ball handling goes through Donovan. He’s been our leading scorer to this point that I know of, and we expect that out of him.”
The Redskins hosted cross-county rival Greenback School on Tuesday and will finish the week with two more games against district foe McMinn Central High School on Thursday and Karns High School on Friday.
“Obviously, we will be back to full strength body-wise, having Drew back in the mix,” Graves said. “We’ve got some guys battling injuries, but we’re pretty full on able bodies who could get in there and mix it up. The biggest thing I want to see out of my guys this week is I want to see them continue to play hard, but I want to see us get a little tougher — get a little tougher, defensively, taking charges. Offensively, finishing at the rim, finishing our shots, finishing our free throws, and I think these guys will do it. Losing a tough district game Friday night, obviously we want to win all three this week, but we have to take it one day at a time.”
The LHS Lady Redskins (2-3, 0-1 District 5-2A) entered Friday night in hopes of snapping a two-game losing streak but came up short in a 67-49 loss to the PCHS Lady Wildcats.
“For one, we haven’t played in the last 10 days, so the last two opponents we’ve played have primarily played zone against us,” Josh Brannon, LHS girls head basketball coach, said. “We were anticipating what Polk would do and getting out there and playing against them live, I thought their pressure was just different than what we’ve seen all year. I thought the first half stymied us ... we had a lot of silly turnovers. Second half, I thought we did a much better job. We adjusted well and our kids executed better. I think we cut our turnovers down three and scored 36 points in the second half. Once we got a feel for it, it was just a little bit too little, too late.”
Guards Molly Russell and Carrie Pittman led the charge with 24 and 19 points, respectively. For Russell, it was her best game since missing the majority of last season with a foot injury.
“She’s recovered really well, I thought her performance was really good,” Brannon said. “She struggled in the first half. She played really hard in the entire game, but really, she had a lot of turnovers in the first half, wasn’t looking to be as aggressive as she could be. In the second half, she settled in and started executing a pretty high level.”
The Lady Redskins took on the Greenback Lady Cherokees on Tuesday after presstime. Their next game is 6 p.m. Thursday at home against McMinn Central, followed by another game at 6 p.m. Friday at Karns High School.