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‘Blazers add conference wins

Boone’s Madi Runnels (1) takes a shot against Cherokee on Friday. (Photos by Ron Weaver)

By TREY WILLIAMS

H&T Correspondent

Cody Connell’s opening act has been a variety show.

The first-year David Crockett boys basketball coach has watched leading roles change from game to game, and seemingly everyone is often in on the act.

That was the case Monday when the Pioneers stretched their winning streak to three games with a 65-44 non-conference win over against Elizabethton at home. Mack Hensley scored 17 points and Donta Hackler and Dawson Wagner added 11 apiece.

Crockett (15-8, 5-3) easily could’ve landed six in double figures. Mason Britton and Eric Dunbar each scored nine, and Avery Letcher had eight.

“It’s kind of what makes us effective,” Connell said. “I mean you watch us play and you’re like, ‘Man, that kid right there is really good. If you stop that kid, that’s how you win the ballgame.’ And the next game he won’t score but someone else will do twice as good as he did, and you’re like, ‘Man, that kid right there is really good. I didn’t see him the other night.’

“You never know which of the top seven or eight are gonna have a big role or a big impact on the game. It makes it fun as a coach, because you’re not relying on one player.”

Connell was especially happy to see Letcher start hot against the Cyclones. As was the case with many players, Letcher was clearly affected by news Sunday of Kobe Bryant’s death, and he made two early 3-pointers.

Crockett honored the NBA great with a 24-second moment of silence prior to the game and Connell wore a No. 24 Pioneers jersey while coaching the game.

“I brought it to their attention after practice (Sunday),” Connell said. “They were devastated. I have one (Letcher) who watched him play his last game. He was a very big fan of his. … He hit two (3-pointers) back to back.

“After he (Bryant) retired, you saw how much he loved his family. That’s kind of what I look at more than how great of a basketball player he was.”

Connell’s first team has become more unselfish throughout the season. Four players are averaging double-digit scoring – Wagner (14 ppg), Hackler (13), Hensley (11) and Britton (10), who is also averaging around six rebounds per game.

“I’m going back and watching games and you’re like, ‘Man, we’ve gotten so much better,’” Connell said. “We were kind of selfish at the beginning of the year. We weren’t making the extra pass. 

“We wouldn’t congratulate or thank the person that made the pass to me when I hit the three. I think we’ve come a long way. We’re wanting to help each other out and I think we’re getting more successful because of that.”

The progress of Eric Dunbar has been invaluable. He was slowed early by an injury during football, and has been critical while fellow football player Prince Kollie has been out with an injury.

“Eric has hit big-time shots,” Connell said. “He hustles up and down the floor. He does all the little things coaches ask for.

“I think another (unsung) one is Jake Gaffney. He’s come off the bench and given us great minutes – he and Colton Estep and Avery. I mean Jake the other night and had 12 rebounds against Volunteer. That doesn’t happen very often with a bench player. But he comes in and he has a great attitude in practice and he works hard. He’s a great leader. 

“It’s easy as a senior when you’re not getting as many minutes as you probably would like to kind of fold and roll over and kind of quit. But man, he’s battling and making our guys better and making himself better. He and Eric both have really taken the challenge of being leaders as seniors.”

The Daniel Boone girls team has quite the senior leader in three-sport standout Jaycie Jenkins, who is averaging 21 points and 7.5 rebounds.

She helped Boone (6-2, 12-8) go 2-0 in the Big Seven last week after scoring 22 points in a 60-45 non-conference win at Greeneville on Monday.

“Monday at Greeneville during the first half was probably the best we have played all year on the defensive and offensive side of the ball together,” Boone coach Beau Hauldren said. “I thought the Greeneville game was a great win for us especially going down there and winning. Everyone seemed to be on another level that night as far as defending and scoring the ball.”

Madi Runnels scored 13 points against the Greene Devils. Greyson Stevens added 10.

Jenkins poured in 26 points in a 46-33 home win against Cherokee. Savannah Jessee and Jenkins scored 11 and nine, respectively, in a 36-20 win at Volunteer. Boone outscored the Falcons 15-2 down the stretch.

“Tuesday at Volunteer was not good for us offensively,” Hauldren said, “but I thought Volunteer had a lot to do with that. I thought defensively we played well. It was good for us to win with Jaycie not scoring in double figures. We really had to grind it out when shots weren’t falling for us. That’s a tough place to play and we were able to leave there with a big conference win.

“I thought Friday against Cherokee we looked tired, especially late in the game. But Jaycie did her thing and scored 26. Maddie Bunting played well and scored some points and pulled down some rebounds for us.

“But overall I think the week went well. We just have to get through some sickness we are having and keep getting better these last couple of weeks of the regular season schedule.”

Daniel Boone’s boys (5-3, 13-7) remained in a three-way tie for third place in the Big Seven thanks to a 56-50 win at home against Cherokee on Friday and a 77-52 win at Volunteer on Tuesday.

Guard Jared Adkins scored 20 points against the Falcons. Colby Backus (18), Cade Norris (14) and Samuel Stroupe (12) also scored in double figures.

Backus paced three double-digit scorers with 15 points in the win against Cherokee. Norris and Adkins added 14 and 11, respectively.

Boone began the week with a respectable 70-67 loss at Greeneville on Monday. The ‘Blazers were without Backus (shoulder) and Chase McGonigle (nose) in the second half.

Norris led four double-figure scorers with 21 points.  Adkins added 13 and Stroupe and Zach Saul scored 11 apiece.

The ‘Blazers will visit league-leading Science Hill on Friday.

David Crockett’s girls fell to 4-4 in the Big Seven and 13-11 overall with a 52-40 loss at Volunteer on Friday. Emily Trivette led the Pioneers with nine points.

Crockett began the week with a 41-30 defeat of Cherokee on Tuesday. Alyssa Suits had 10 points and seven steals. Emma Gouge (12 points) and Mackenzie Baldwin (eight boards) were also key contributors.