By TREY WILLIAMS
Visitors at the Texas Roadhouse Holiday Classic basketball tournament could get a Tiger by the tail during the fifth annual event.
The Jonesborough Tigers boys won three games in the middle school tournament last week to advance to the semifinals, where they’ll face Unicoi County on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Tigers girls defeated Sullivan North, and will play Hunter on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the quarterfinals (after press time for the Herald & Tribune.)
Tim Anderson is in his first year coaching Jonesborough’s boys. So far, so good. The Tigers improved to 9-0 on the season with tournament wins against Gray, Sullivan North and West View.
The point guard is Lars Marshall. He is flanked in the backcourt by fellow eighth grader Hayden Gortney and seventh grader Gavin Pearce. Kaiden Easterling and Zayden Stevens, both seventh graders, comprise a formidable front court tandem, and sixth man Chase Soto is essentially a starter.
“With our team it’s anybody any given night,” Anderson said. “We’ve got seven or eight starters we can run out there. Every man knows his job.
“Zayden Stevens is a beast in the paint. … Chase Soto is our first man off the bench. It’s like lighting a fire under somebody when he comes out there.”
Four Tigers scored in double figures in a 59-48 win against North on Friday. Easterling led the way with 16 points, followed by Stevens (15), Pearce (14) and Gortney (11).
“We didn’t have any expectations going into the season,” Anderson said. “The main thing that we’re trying to do is build a culture around the program. You can’t be oblivious to all the new school talk that’s going around, and when we took over the program we wanted to create a community involvement in the basketball program around Jonesborough. …
“We took our lumps this summer. We got beat bad by some teams, Some AAA teams like John Sevier, Liberty Bell. I think it’s paid off. Right now we’re 9-0 heading into the last three games of the season after Christmas break.”
West View’s Jake Fox is one of the top players in Washington County, as are Brody McGuire (Sulphur Springs) and Brayden Blankenship (Fall Branch).
Anderson said playing at home has benefitted his team.
“It’s a great atmosphere at home and we definitely have a home-court advantage,” Anderson said. “We’re approaching this like this is our tournament and we want to win it. But we also want to use this tournament to help us practice to get to area and hopefully the sectional. That’s the goal. You have to have a different mentality when you play in a tournament, because you can’t lose.”
Anderson anticipates a challenge from Unicoi in the semifinals.
“Unicoi is big, long and athletic,” Anderson said. “They’re disciplined. We know they’re very capable of laying 60 on the board on a given night. So we have to rebound, play our game, run in transition and not play to their game.”
Surgoinsville and Church Hill will meet in the other semifinal Thursday at 5 p.m.
The Jonesborough girls, coached by Terry Burger, are led by the front court tandem of Sophie Grear and Olivia Verble, who respectively average approximately 16 and 12 points per game. All five Tigers starters, which include point guard Maddie Humphrey, Addison Rowe and Cara Wilson, are eighth graders.
“All five are seasoned and waited their turn,” Burger said.
Jonesborough defeated North, 27-25.
“They did a good job against North,” Burger said. “We were up by six with about two minutes to go. Coach Lloyd (Griffin) does a great job. They got a fast break and cut it to four and we kind of kept it there. The girls played really good defense for about the last 30 seconds. Maddie got a turnover. Sophie had a key rebound.”
Burger’s squad is best suited for playing through the post at a methodical pace.
“We want to slow the pace down – way, way, way down,” Burger said.
Lamar’s Sophia Gouge and Elizabeth Wheeley and Grandview’s Eva Marler and Laney Britton are among the standouts in Washington County.
“And I’ll say this about West View: they’ve got a coach down there, Jennifer Taylor, who’s the best coach in the county,” Burger said. “She’s gonna make you work for everything you get.”
Burger also noted the impressive job David Crockett girls coach Tony Gordon has done orchestrating a 9-2 start.
“Coach Gordon has done an excellent job down there,” he said.
Burger’s Tigers are 9-3. He said they enjoy the tournament atmosphere on their home court. They’ll take on Hunter at 8 p.m. in Wednesday’s quarterfinal nightcap.
“Hunter’s always well-coached,” Burger said. “And coming out of Stoney Creek, they’re gonna have players. Last year we played ‘em and didn’t do so well against ‘em. We should be a more seasoned team this year and be able to give them a little bit more of a game than we did last year. …
“If we’re not (ready) we’ll pay the price. But my girls will be ready to play. … I really feel like we’ll get a ‘W’ if we play our game.”
The girls championship game is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday. The boys’ finale will follow.