By TREY WILLIAMS
David Crockett no longer has Patrick Good, but it still has a guard that’s arguably as good as any in the Big Seven Conference.
Senior Josh “Rico” Releford carried the rebuilding Pioneers to a third-place finish in the Hardee’s Classic last week at Crockett, punctuating an impressive three-game showing with a difficult buzzer-beating 3-pointer that lifted the Pioneers to a 53-52 victory against Daniel Boone on Saturday.
Releford’s trey was launched over two defenders immediately after he caught an inbounds pass with two seconds left. The ball hit nothing but net, much to the delight of a boisterous student section eager to see the arch rival Trailblazers absorb the dagger.
“It’s always a big deal,” Releford said. “They beat us in football this year so we had to get some get-back after that.”
Releford scored 86 points and made 13 treys in three Hardee’s games, which included a 63-43 quarterfinal win against South-Doyle and a frustrating 67-63 semifinal loss to Morristown East. The Pioneers led East 63-59 with 1:05 remaining when Will Stevens assisted a Cole Ricker lay-in.
But several Crockett miscues ensued, including Releford missing the front end of a one-and-one free throw when he had an opportunity to give the Pioneers a 65-63 lead with 36 seconds remaining.
“It started off with me missing the one-and-one free throw when it was tied up,” Releford said. “That hurt.”
His shot at redemption, however, was sweet. Releford scored 17 of his 33 points against Boone in the fourth quarter. He made difficult drives, step-back 3-pointers and pull-up jumpers.
“My brother was on me yesterday about not being more aggressive in the fourth quarter,” Releford said. “So I had to shut him up.”
Releford commanded, frequently drew two defenders, and was often able to provide shot opportunities for teammates.
“Josh has matured so much as an individual and as a player,” Crockett fourth-year coach John Good said. “That’s why we coach.”
The Pioneers are otherwise essentially brand new. Along with Good, other seniors on last season’s record-setting state tournament team included Dustin Day, Brendan Coleman, Peyton Ford and Ian Martin.
The Pioneers started two freshmen – Donta Hackler and McHale Bright – in the third-place game against Boone. Hackler scored nine straight points for Crockett in its semifinal loss. And the sophomore tandem of John Kollie and Stevens teamed for Stevens’ assisted trey that helped fuel a fourth-quarter rally against the ‘Blazers.
“They’re all in situations they’ve never been in before every time out,” Good said. “They’re learning on the job…Our young kids are giving us everything that they have. And it’s fun. It may not look like it, but it’s fun to be a part of this group.”
Beating the Pioneers was nonetheless gratifying for Morristown East coach Ryan Collins, a former University High point guard.
“I have the utmost respect for coach Good and what he’s done with this program,” Collins said. “I know he’s got some young pieces, but Josh is a phenomenal player. So it was a big-time challenge for us.”
Daniel Boone also has cause for optimism despite losing guards Ryan Keever and Alex Percell from last season.
Eric Rigsby and Chad Heglar look solid on the wings, Jayden Stevens is an experienced point guard and the frontcourt could be formidable with 6-foot-4 Evan Scanlan and 6-foot-7 Chris Brooks. Gunnar Norris and Justin Turner are among those who appear primed for productive seasons as role players.
“I like what we have,” Boone coach Chris Brown said after suffering his second last-second loss in as many days. “We’ve just gotta be mentally tougher; we’ve gotta be physically tougher…You’ve gotta be able to make free throws. You’ve got a chance to at least give yourself a cushion so those kind of things right there don’t kill you. Granted, you know, Josh hit a phenomenal shot. I mean we had two guys on him, draped all over him.”
Unicoi County defeated East in the championship game. It was the Blue Devils’ fifth title, tying them with Crockett for the most in the 27-year-old tournament.
“We pride ourselves in wanting to win this tournament every time we come down here,” Unicoi County coach Michael Smith said. “That does tie us back up with Crockett with five.
“So I guess we’re gonna have to come back next year and maybe the two of us can play in the championship game and go for the sixth.”
Unicoi County junior guard Trevor Hensley was named tournament MVP. Releford made the all-tournament team, as did Boone’s Heglar and Rigsby.