Fans packed the North Middle School gymnasium Monday night to watch a tight, physical battle between the Stars and cross-county rival Fort Loudoun Middle School Braves that ended in thrilling fashion.
After trailing by 10 to start the fourth quarter, the Braves went on a 9-0 run on a series of free throws to cut the lead to three.
“One, (Fort) Loudoun came out and played pretty intense, they played really, really hard,” Brad Pompey, NMS boys head basketball coach, said. “I think we did a good job staying poised under pressure when the score got a little tighter. We did a good job not turning the ball over after we did once or twice. We kind of regrouped once they started pressing us. Every time we play them, it’s really intense and scrappy.”
North responded late with two steals and six transition points by eighth-grader Bryson Gardner to seal a 56-48 win. Gardner led the Stars with 24 points.
“They came back there at the end, and I think the press break really helped us,” he said. “They pressed us, and we kind of freaked out a minute there, but then we got a timeout, kind of reset everything and came out there and that was it. It’s my teammates, I couldn’t do it if my teammates didn’t back me up. It’s a five-man show, not a one-man show. I couldn’t do this all by myself. I’ve got Jaylen (Pompey) in there, I’ve got Eli (Lindsey) and Matthew (Miller) in there rebounding for me, so it’s a team thing.”
FLMS head coach Joel Bailey was proud of his team’s effort in going toe-to-toe with a talented North squad.
“After the last game, we played terrible, and I think the guys knew it,” he said. “I think the biggest thing, we wanted to just come out and show that’s not who we are, that last game. We wanted to come out and prove to ourselves, first and foremost, that we’re better than what we showed last game. I told them before the game, ‘You never question the heart of a champion because champions always come out swinging no matter what,’ so that’s what we did. We just have to learn how to keep swinging.”
The teams will face off again in a Christmas tournament Dec. 27-28 at Concord Christian School. Pompey and Bailey will use the next two weeks to stress fundamentals before the start of the new year.
“I think we really need to focus on boxing out a lot,” Pompey said. “I think we rebounded well tonight, but they were smaller than us. Boxing out and playing better defense, that’s what we’ll do — man-to-man defense.”
“First off, we have to execute better down the stretch,” Bailey added. “We’ve got to stay under control, you know, when we can push and when we can’t push, when we can attack and when not to attack. I told the guys, ‘This is not the time to fall apart. We have got to lean on each other.’ We’ve got a couple of days off, and then we’ve got a Christmas tournament, so I think leading into this tournament ... of course, you want to win, but the effort and the fight that we showed, it brought our confidence back to where it needed to be.”
Lady Stars survive
The North Middle School Lady Stars had a low-scoring affair against the FLMS Lady Braves and won 28-14.
The Lady Stars found a spark late when Alison Stigall entered the lineup and provided valuable minutes.
“We continue to struggle with zone defenses,” Janet Cardwell, NMS girls head basketball coach, said. “Down the stretch, I think we finally got the lineup in that ... people were being disciplined in what they were supposed to be doing, so we finally got that lineup in. Alison Stigall came in third and fourth quarters, and I think gave us big rebounds and a couple of good scores. I was still playing in, ‘This is so close, we could lose it’ mode and all of a sudden, I look up and it’s a 14-point game.”
Cardwell admits the team has been in a minor rebuilding mode after losing several talented and deep eighth-grade classes.
“Well, I think we’re beating teams we should beat, and we lost to the best teams in the district in Meigs (County), Cherokee, Sweetwater and Athens,” she said. “We’ve got Sweetwater coming up at the end of this week, so we’re looking forward to seeing them again and seeing if we can’t give them a better game. Overall, it’s been about what I expected — a lot of young kids on varsity.”