On a snowy Saturday, Ensworth’s girls and boys basketball teams warmed themselves up with smiles when they proved that good things come in threes.
The boys won their third straight Division II-AA state championship, and the girls won their third overall. Those titles came in the wake of the unbeaten and nationally ranked Tigers football team (13-0) winning a third straight crown last fall.
After the girls beat Brentwood Academy 57-42 in a 9 a.m. contest to win their gold ball, the boys were poised for a repeat in the finals at Lipscomb Allen Arena.
For three and half quarters it looked as if Memphis Briarcrest, which lost to Ensworth in last year’s final, was going to halt the victory march. But guard Corn Elder and almost personally willed the Tigers (23-6) to an 87-77 overtime victory.
“This was always our goal, and it was great to get it,” Andrew Fleming (17 points) said. “We were fighting uphill the whole second half, but no one ever gave up.”
Elder, also a key figure in the three football titles, poured in a team-high 41 points. He was 12-of-28 from the field, dished out eight assists, made seven steals and grabbed six rebounds. He added 16 free throws on 19 attempts.
He scored half of his team’s points in overtime, when the Tigers allowed just two points.
“We kept our poise and kept battling to the very end,” he said. “[Winning six state titles] is something I could never have dreamed of.”
Briarcrest’s Mr. Basketball winner, 6-foot-8 Austin Nichols, also was terrific with a tournament high 42 points, with seven dunks, and 14 rebounds.
“He probably got tired after making all those dunks against us,” coach Ricky Bowers quipped about his team’s rally.
Ensworth trailed by 11 points (62-51) with six minutes left, but slowly inched back with a 26-point fourth quarter. It got even at 75-75 tie on Elder’s bank shot with 27 seconds left.
With seven seconds to go, Elder stole the ball, raced down court but his shot from five feet bounced off the front rim in the final second. D’Andre Ferby, who finished with 16 points, tipped in the miss — just after the buzzer.
“This starts with so many people who have paved the way for our success, three classes ago, two classes ago, one class ago,” Bowers said. “It’s a process. Winning is contagious, it takes care of itself.”
SWETT EQUITY: Girls coach Hubie Smith’s eyes welled up with tears when he started to talk about senior Justice Swett.
The tournament MVP scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the Tigers beat BA for a third time this season and added to the state championships they won in 2008 and 2010. She came back strong after a bulging disc injury in her back before her junior year.
“I have never enjoyed coaching anyone as much as Justice, who loves this game,” Smith, in a rare show of emotion, said. “From Day One, she was determined to work her way back and she is the one who makes this team go.”
Ensworth ended the season on a 27-game winning streak.
“This means so much,” Swett, who has signed with Navy said. “It’s so special because of all the rehab I had to go through.”
Kennesha Nichols, who like Swett was a Miss Basketball finalist, scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Tigers who made board work a priority.
“In our two regular season games, they outrebounded us [a combined] 78-42, and that was a number I emphasized over and over,” Smith said.
On Saturday, Ensworth managed a 34-33 edge rebounds.
Carson Pittman added 12 for Ensworth, which last lost to to nationally ranked and undefeated Riverdale, which will compete for the Class AAA title this week.
“We were in that [Riverdale] game until the final minute when we had to foul,” Smith said. “If they are the No. 1 team in the state, I would strongly suggest that we are no worse than No. 2.”
It is a fact that they are three-time champions.