By TREY WILLIAMS
The Daniel Boone Lady Trailblazers completed a mission to improve on last season’s runner-up finish in the district basketball tournament while winning the program’s first district title in 10 years Saturday at Science Hill.
Top-seeded Boone got 16 points from tournament MVP Bayleigh Carmichel and junior combo guard Macie Culbertson was invaluable in the endgame of a 57-52 championship victory against the host Hilltoppers.
Boone and Science Hill also met for the boys’ title. The ‘Toppers won, 67-49, but Chris Brown’s Trailblazers advanced to the Region 1-AAA tournament and will host a first-round game Saturday.
John Good’s David Crockett Pioneers also clinched a regional berth with their district tournament win against Tennessee High. They will travel for a first-round regional game Saturday.
The Lady Trailblazers, who lost 45-30 to Dobyns-Bennett in last year’s district title game after beating it by 14 points 15 days earlier, were faced with the task of having to beat Science Hill for a third straight time in the championship game.
Science Hill led by two at halftime and the score was tied entering the fourth quarter – not that the Boone players appeared worried.
“They were kind of calm at halftime,” Boone coach Travis Mains said. “We hadn’t played real good, and I just told ‘em, ‘We’re 16 minutes away from winning this thing.’ And they kind of took over in the fourth quarter. We didn’t really defend or rebound very well, but we executed offensively and knocked down shots.”
Culbertson and fellow junior Sydney Pearce, a 6-foot-2 post, scored 15 and 12 points, respectively, for Boone (27-4), which won its 17th straight game.
The Lady ‘Blazers never trailed after Carmichel opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer. Carmichel has regained her groove after falling off briefly while dealing with an ailing rib down the stretch.
“She’s not scared to take the shot,” Mains said. “She went for about a week or two where she was in a shooting slump and she started taking the ball to the basket. And that opened her game back up.
“She’s getting healthy from that fall she took at Tennessee High. She’s got that look in her eyes. She’s aggressive and she wants to win.”
Several Lady ‘Blazers were dealing with flu-like symptoms during the tournament, and the limited depth/energy forced Mains to keep from applying his preferred full-court pressure.
But Boone’s depth prevailed. Seven Lady Trailblazers average between six and 11 points per game.
“They want to keep playing and they play for each other,” Mains said. “They don’t care about statistics. We don’t have a kid averaging 11 points a game on our team and we have two kids with multiple Division I offers (Culbertson and Pearce). When your best players are unselfish the whole team becomes unselfish.”
Culbertson, Pearce and Montana Riddle joined Carmichel on the all-tournament team from Boone, which will host Cherokee on Friday in a regional first-round game. Culbertson, who recently committed to Belmont, was also named the Big Seven Conference co-Player of the Year with Dobyns-Bennett’s Courtney Whitson.
“Cherokee’s got a real good point guard,” Mains said. “They’ve really improved. We played them last year at Christmas time and beat them pretty soundly. … They’re very physical.
“On paper it’ll look like a blowout, but I’m sure it’s gonna be a pretty good game. They’ll play hard and won’t quit.”
Daniel Boone’s boys defeated Dobyns-Bennett in the district semifinals to earn a first-round home game in the regional. Sophomore guard Chad Heglar scored 24 points in Boone’s 52-40 win against the Indians after senior forward Evan Scanlan had piled up 18 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists in a victory against Sullivan Central in the do-or-die district opener. Scanlan had 14 rebounds and seven points against D-B.
Scanlan and Heglar made the all-tournament team, as did senior point guard Jayden Stevens, who scored 13 points in the championship loss to Science Hill.
Boone (17-13) will host Morristown East (22-10) on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the regional quarterfinals. The regional semifinals and championship game will be at Science Hill.
David Crockett senior point guard Josh Releford also made the all-tournament team. Releford scored 28 points in each of the Pioneers’ three tournament games – a win that ended Tennessee High’s season and respective losses to Science Hill (71-49) and Dobyns-Bennett (67-64) in the semifinals and consolation game.
The Pioneers (17-14) will visit Cocke County (20-10) in the first round of the region Saturday at 7 p.m