Mitchell falls to Bearcats in WHC tourney
LEDGER – One awful quarter doomed Mitchell basketball in the first round of the Western Highlands Conference tournament against Hendersonville.
Mitchell was outscored 22-2 in the second quarter Friday and the Mountaineers couldn’t mount a successful comeback, falling 69-49 at home. The blowout followed one of Mitchell’s better performances of the season Feb. 6 when Mitchell nearly knocked off Avery and the Viking’s years-long conference winning streak.
Mitchell, playing at home, let a fourth-quarter lead slip away and Avery made free throws down the stretch to wrap up another undefeated regular season in the Western Highlands Conference. The win was Avery’s 53rd-straight against WHC opponents. The loss ended Mitchell’s five-game winning streak. The Mountaineers, under first-year Head Coach Chad Dellinger, finished the regular season 6-6 in conference play and 9-14 overall.
Mitchell will find out this weekend where it plays in the first round of the 1-A state playoffs, which begin next week.
Against the Bearcats, Mitchell had a 5-2 lead early on before Hendersonville went an 8-1 run. Jesse Pitman’s 3-pointer tied the game at 15 before Hendersonville’s late basket made it 17-15 heading into the second quarter.
Hendersonville simply outplayed Mitchell in the quarter and the Mountaineers couldn’t stop turning the ball over (Mitchell had 16 turnovers in the first half and 24 in the game). Hendersonville was up 28-15 before Ben Robinson finally scored for Mitchell midway through the quarter. But Hendersonville continued to dominate as Mitchell failed to execute on offense. It was 39-17 at halftime.
“No effort for the most part,” Dellinger said about the second quarter. “We just struggled to get in our offense. Our help-side (defense) was a struggle. We never did adjust, didn’t talk too much on D.”
Mitchell was down 22 midway through the third quarter, but the Mountaineers came alive as they applied full-court pressure on the Bearcats. Mitchell forced turnovers and converted easy baskets. A pair of free throws by Trystan Jenkins made it 47-32 and the lead was cut to 10 after an Alex McKinney 3-point play and Jordan Bailey’s coast-to-coast layup.
“Got a little effort going. We gave them a little run towards the end” of the quarter, Dellinger said.
Mitchell had a chance to cut further into the deficit late in the quarter, but a 3-pointer missed and Hendersonville got the last shot, which ended up being a 3-pointer that hung on the front of the rim before falling in as the buzzer sounded. The basket put Hendersonville up 13 heading into the fourth and Mitchell wouldn’t get any closer.
Pitman and Trystan Jenkins both scored 10 for Mitchell while Justin Greene had 8 points. Hendersonville moved on to play Avery Tuesday night in the second round at tournament host Owen.
Mitchell’s regular-season finale against Avery was all Vikings in the opening minutes as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead before Mitchell called timeout. But the Mountaineers stormed back with a 14-8 run to end the quarter and were down just three to start the second.
Mitchell took a 20-19 lead on freshman Tyler McKinney’s layup early in the quarter. That started another run for Mitchell and it was 26-21 midway through the second. Avery got a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup to cut Mitchell’s lead to 28-26 and the Viking’s finished the half with a flurry in a 13-3 run to take a 34-29 lead at halftime.
The teams went back and forth early in the third before Jesse Pitman’s deep 3-pointer from the wing cut Avery’s lead to one. Alex McKinney’s layup gave Mitchell another lead, but Avery took it right back with a three from the corner. Trystan Jenkins, who led Mitchell with 20 points, got a basket just before the buzzer to tie the game at 41 heading into the fourth.
“We did a good job of putting pressure on their best players,” Dellinger said about Mitchell’s defense.
Jesse Pitman hit another three to start the fourth and Mitchell was up 46-41 after a pair of Noah Pitman free throws. But Avery’s players, who’ve been tested time and time again during the winning streak, showed no signs of panic.
After a Mitchell timeout following an Avery basket, the Mountaineers turned the ball over and Avery ended up with a basket plus the foul – it was 46-46 after the made free throw. Jenkins drove the baseline and scored at the basket on Mitchell’s next possession, but then things started to go downhill for Mitchell.
The Vikings got two fast-break layups off Mitchell turnovers to go up 50-48. Then Mitchell turned the ball over again and Avery held it as the clocked wound down under two minutes. Mitchell was flying around on defense but Avery passed the ball around before getting a layup and a foul. The free throw was no good.
Mitchell’s Justin Greene drove to the basket and was fouled on the next possession. He made the first free throw and missed the second, but Jenkins got the rebound and was fouled. He made both shots to put Mitchell down one, 51-52, with a minute left in the game.
Avery broke Mitchell’s full-court press and the Mountaineers were forced to foul after failing to get a steal. Deacon Heath calmly made both free throws to put the Vikings back up by three. Mitchell didn’t force the ball on its next possession and after a few passes Alex McKinney scored on a driving layup with 18 seconds left. After a timeout, Avery beat the press again and a foul put Heath went back at the line with 12 seconds left. He made both to make the score 56-53.
On the final possession, Jenkins got the ball on the wing and sidestepped before getting off a shot with a hand in his face. The shot missed and Mitchell’s upset bid ended with the final buzzer.
Jeffrey Puckett scored 26 for the Vikings while Heath finished with 15. Jesse Pitman scored 15 for Mitchell.