HENDERSONVILLE — Mt. Juliet’s unlikely surge through the District 9-AAA boys’ tournament continued Saturday night when the Golden Bears upset top-seeded Wilson Central 65-52.
The Bears, who knocked off host Beech the night before, will go for what is believed to be their first-ever district tournament championship at 8 p.m. Tuesday against Station Camp.
As it is, Mt. Juliet secured a home game for 7 p.m. Saturday in the opening round of the Region 5-AAA tournament while Wilson Central, which will face Gallatin at 8 p.m. Monday for third place, will have to travel.
“It’s always a nice thing to be there,” said Mt. Juliet coach Troy Allen, whose Bears have won regular-season championships and reached the tournament finals, but never won the title which really counts. “Those guys deserve it. We had a tough last couple of weeks of the season. But we never game in. We kept fighting the fight.”
Two straight three-pointers by John Mark Bell and a third by Nolan Chowbay following a steal launched Mt. Juliet to a 14-6 lead late in the first quarter. A 10-0 Golden Bear run in the second opened a 26-10 margin and the Wildcats could get no closer than nine in the closing minutes as MJ moved to 17-10 for the season and Central slipped to 21-6.
“John Mark played incredible,” Allen said. “He’s been in a little slump late in the year where he didn’t play his best. He’s really had a good year moving to point guard as a senior. I couldn’t be prouder of how he played tonight.”
Bell sank 10 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter to lead Mt. Juliet with 16 points while Chowbay finished with 15. Daniel Schroder sank 6 of 7 from the line as he and James Womack each tossed in 12 while Reagan Johnson scored six and Zac Anderson four as the Bears bagged 28 of 35 free throws.
But it may have been Womack’s defense on Central’s Jacob Williams, holding the Wildcats’ career scoring leader to 14 points, that was a key.
“I don’t think [Womack] felt like he guarded [Williams] as well as he could the last game and he takes that as a personal challenge,” Allen said.
“We know [Williams] is the best player we play every year and [Womack] took it personally how he went off the last game.
“Our whole team has to guard him and James will be the first to tell you that. We guard him with multiple people attacking him once he gets the ball.”
The Wildcats kicked up their defense down the stretch. But too many 1-for-2 and 0-for-2 trips to the free-throw line, where they were 16-of-29 for the game, didn’t help their cause.
“They just whipped us on the glass,” Wildcats coach Troy Bond said. “The other two games [both Central wins], we were able to control the glass a lot. They were more physical. We settled a lot on offense for shots where before we were patient, took our time.
“They came in with a purpose and what they wanted to accomplish. We were a little too cool and kept thinking ‘everything is going to materialize out’ and it never did. They just took it to us and we didn’t respond until late when we finally started playing a little bit. But you can’t spot a team 12 points and then decide to start coming in and trying to play the last four minutes.”
Central was called for six charging fouls, three of which negated baskets.
“We had some tough calls,” Bond said. “But you got to play through those. There are nights when we get those against other people. We’ve got to adjust to what’s going on on the floor and we didn’t do a very good job of that. We just didn’t seem real focused in.”
Big man Ben Palmer put in 18 points for Central while Jon Rosshirt scored seven, Casey Brandon and Matthew Hall five each, A.J. Franklin two and Deante Miller a free throw.
Lady Bears blow by Lebanon
HENDERSONVILLE — Mt. Juliet’s girls punched their ticket to the District 9-AAA final early in Saturday’s semifinal, crushing Lebanon 52-26 at Beech.
The Lady Bears scored 10 straight to jump to a 17-4 lead early in the second quarter and never looked back in improving to 24-1.
Mt. Juliet will face host Beech at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the final, 24 hours after Lebanon takes on Hendersonville for third place. The Lady Bears will play a home Region 5-AAA opening game at 7 p.m. Friday while the Devilettes, who dropped to 13-14, will travel.
Raeyana DeGray scored 12 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter for Mt. Juliet while fellow post Sally McCabe tossed in 12. Tyia Waller supplied seven, Savannah Sanders sank a pair of three-pointers as she and Ronjanae DeGray each supplied six points. Summer Adams added two points and Taylor Bounds and Tavie Bell a free throw apiece.