By TREY WILLIAMS
Cody Connell has hit the ground running as David Crockett’s first-year basketball coach.
The Daniel Boone alumnus guided the host Pioneers to a Hardee’s Classic title last week, capping the feat with a 64-55 defeat of a solid Sullivan South squad on Saturday.
Donta Hackler scored 21 points and his former football teammate, Mason Britton, added 15, including a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter that tied the score and erased a six-point deficit. Hackler scored eight points in the fourth quarter and each delivered an early trey to set the tone for the Pioneers (5-1).
“And they were both crashing the boards like crazy,” Connell said. “At the end of the game, we just kept rolling it down to Donta and saying, ‘Here, go score.’ He said, ‘Coach, give me the ball.’ So we gave it to him down the stretch. And he finished. He did a great job. I was really proud of both of ‘em.”
Sophomore point guard Dawson Wagner (12 points) preceded Britton’s 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter with a stick-back to cut South’s lead to three points.
Tournament MVP Mack Hensley, a senior shooting guard, scored 21 points in the 76-67 semifinal win against Morristown West.
“Mack’s a senior leader,” Connell said. “He’s in the gym every morning before school, stays after practice every day. He’s trying to play at the next level and he most definitely will. He can shoot it from anywhere.”
Another senior guard, reserve Avery Letcher, scored all 21 of his points from 3-point distance in an 87-39 quarterfinals win against West Greene.
“It wasn’t a surprise to us,” Connell said. “But for an outsider I think you’re looking at it like, ‘Man, he comes off the bench and scores 21 points.’ But every day in practice that’s what he does. He’s really good at that.
“We don’t just have one guy that can score. The MVP of the tournament had four points in the championship game. But we have different guys that can step up every night and score 20-plus.”
Crockett was picked to finish fifth in the Big Seven Conference, a poll Connell will likely revisit often throughout the season.
“It’s kind of turned them a little bit,” Connell said, “to where they have something to prove.”
Enhancing the memorable week for Connell was having his brothers (Kevin, Kirby) and parents (Jeff, Kim) in attendance. Kevin played baseball at The Citadel and Kirby plays baseball at Tennessee. They were right behind the bench with Jeff cheering on, if not assisting, Cody.
“That was really cool to have them all around,” Connell said. “(Dad) gave me a big fist-pump. Mom was excited. It was a good night.”
Granted, the best moment might’ve been with his new family.
“I’ve got a great group of guys and they work hard every day,” Connell said. “So just to see the excitement on their faces when the buzzer went off at the end of the game and how excited they were, knowing they just beat a great team (was a great feeling).”
Crockett, which recorded its sixth Hardee’s title in the 30th annual tournament, opens conference play at Cherokee on Friday.
A girls tournament debuted as part of the Hardee’s this year, and David Crockett’s girls team displayed significant improvement under second-year coach Tony Gordon while finishing runner-up to Meigs County despite losing Emma Gouge to an ankle sprain in the quarterfinals.
The Pioneers (5-1) defeated Chuckey-Doak, 74-24, in the quarterfinals and surprised Happy Valley with a 53-21 win in the semifinals. A balanced Crockett team played unselfishly with confidence, even minus Gouge, who should return in a week or two.
Junior guard Halle Scott scored 10 points in the championship game against Meigs County, which is coached by former Crockett coach Jason Powell (mid-1990s) and went to the state tournament last season. Scott also had a team-high 13 points in the rout of Happy Valley.
Emily Trivette led the way with 16 points in the quarterfinals. MacKenzie Baldwin and Zoe Sanders added 12 and 10, respectively.
Daniel Boone’s boys finished third in the Hardee’s Classic. The Trailblazers (3-2) bounced back from a 70-59 semifinal loss to Sullivan South with a 72-57 defeat of Morristown West in the consolation game.
Junior forward Cade Norris led the ‘Blazers with 21 points against South. Jared Atkins (12), Colby Backus (10) and Zach Saul (10) also scored in double figures.
Daniel Boone coach Chris Brown noted his balanced roster last week, and the Trailblazers had five double-digit scorers in the win against Morristown West. Atkins (15), Norris (14) and Backus (12) combined for 41 points, and Crowder Jones and Caleb Head added 10 apiece.
Daniel Boone will visit Tennessee High on Wednesday.