The Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School Panthers basketball team got off a to a fast start and never looked back Thursday en route to a 55-18 victory over the Philadelphia Elementary School Warriors.
LCIMS head boys basketball coach Bobby Johnson Jr. was ecstatic to pick up the win to get back to a .500 record.
“It’s really big, we love this in-school game,” he said. “We get a lot of kids that don’t get to go to a lot of games or don’t come to any games. The crowd’s electric, and we hope we can keep doing it every year with Philly. They came out ready go to, especially the eighth-graders. This is the last time they get to do this, so they’re excited ... they just wanted to put on a show for their fellow students.”
LCIMS eighth-graders Zach McNabb and Trey Wilhite led the charge early the first quarter to help spark a 23-2 run for a 39-3 lead at the break.
“I think having the in-school game and being in front of everybody, I don’t know ... we killed them the last time we were there, and we just wanted to do the same thing for our crowd,” McNabb said. “We all have our different roles. Trey rebounds and is aggressive. Me and Kelso are scorers on the team, but I think my role is offensive. It just all helps when you put it all together.”
The Panthers have steadily improved and are playing at a faster tempo.
“About the past six or seven games, we’ve come out electric and ready to go,” Johnson said. “It’s usually the third quarter that we struggle with; it’s the reason why I left the starters in. They responded really well, so we’re building. I always tell them, ‘You’ve got to be ready by the end of January for the district tournament’.”
The Lady Panthers also put on a dominant performance and defeated the Lady Warriors 37-12 to get back in the win column.
“We came off a heartbreaking loss to Sweetwater Middle School on Tuesday, which was a huge deal, and I just kind of challenged my girls and told them, ‘You can either stay down or keep fighting’,” Amber Henderson, LCIMS head girls basketball coach, said. “We changed our offense around Wednesday at practice, and they came out and executed perfectly. I think part of it was they were hungry, and they didn’t like how it felt at Sweetwater. They definitely didn’t want that to happen at home in front of their student body.”
Esme Avalos and Lexi Varner led the team with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Both have been crucial for the Lady Panthers’ late success this season.
“I definitely was so proud of Esme, who’s our post, because she’s needed that game for a while,” Henderson said. “It’s a confidence builder. They just didn’t have anything for her down low, so we just kept giving her the ball and she kept putting it through the hole. Maelyn Boyd was out with an ankle injury, so we had different people step up and play. The first time we played Philadelphia, Lexi was out sick ... she jumped in and took over and did exactly what I needed her to do.”
The Lady Panthers will use the Christmas break to rest before returning Jan. 7 to take on cross-county rival Fort Loudoun Middle School.
“If we’re planning on getting anywhere within the district, we’re going to have to clean it up and play our best ball games from here on out,” Henderson said.