As tournament month arrives, one of the most surprising basketball teams in Nashville so far this season has to be the Franklin Road Academy girls.
Despite losing three quality players from last year’s team, the Panthers have soared to a 20-3 record and will likely be a No. 1 or 2 seed for the DII-A region tournament, opening this week.
Perhaps no one is more surprised with her team’s play than FRA’s only senior, point guard Erica Haselton.
“I’m definitely surprised, I didn’t think we’d be very good this year after the losses we had to three outstanding seniors,’’ Haselton said last week.
“I think our defense is been the biggest thing, and we’ve improved as the season has gone along,’’ she said. “It’s exciting to see us get better and better. As a senior, I’ve tried to show some leadership, because this is my last season.’’
The leading scorer is a freshman, Derica Wyatt, who averages a team best 18 points a game and has been starting since eighth grade. She has been the leading scorer in nearly every game.
Wyatt scored eight quick points early in an easy win over Mt. Juliet Christian last week, including nailing consecutive three-pointers en route to a game-high 24 points. She added 19 more in a romp over St. Andrews-Sewanee Friday.
Haselton, the team leader is assists, blends in with 6-1 Abby Wharton and 5-9 Erin Ford, both juniors, who are the Panthers top inside players. Wing Katie Coben, wing Mariah Canady (younger sister of former FRA star Emily) and post Alyssa Gallas are all capable double figure scorers.
“Perhaps the pre-season expectations probably weren’t very high,’’ said Coach Chris Hart. “With the three quality senior starters we lost, it looked like we were in a rebuilding situation.
“But this team has come on really well,’’ he said. “We’ve made a commitment to defense, and Erica has done an outstanding job in her leadership role as the only senior.’’
The team began believing in itself after a hard-fought win over a good Murfreesboro Blackman team in the Christmas tournament in December.
FRA is ranked No. 2 in the state (AP) in all Div. II classes, behind only St. Benedict. The region title will likely be decided between FRA and Davidson Academy, which handed the Panthers their only league loss in a game at DA.
DII-A region 'final four' games at DCA
DII-A Middle/East region tournament starts at satellite (home court) sites Friday (boys) and Saturday (girls). Quarterfinal games are Feb. 15 (boys) and 16 (girls) at home sites, with those winners advancing to the final four at Donelson Christian School Feb. 19-20.
Four semifinal (girls/boys) games are at DCA, starting at 4 p.m., with the consolation and finals on Feb. 20, beginning at 2 p.m.
Ensworth, MBA appear class of boys DII
Don’t be the least bit surprised if Ensworth and Montgomery Bell Academy wind up in the state DII championship game next month at Lipscomb Allen Arena.
The two teams staged two outstanding games over the course of five days last week, with Ensworth winning both by three points — 69-66 at MBA and 71-68 at Ensworth. Both games were played before packed houses with each school’s loud and boisterous cheering section trying to outdo the other.
Some bad blood could be brewing, especially in view of a hard intentional foul being called on an Ensworth lay-up late in the final minute of the second game at Ensworth, resulting in an MBA player being ejected.
Freshman Corn Elder has provided a lot of spark for Enworth, while senior Holden Mobley is one of the Big Red standouts and knocked down six three-pointers in the second game with the Tigers.
Regardless, look for these two teams to meet again in the region finals at Ensworth later this month — then possibly again for the big gold ball in March. The DII state tourney is again at Lipscomb Allen Arena March 4-6.
Pettiford following in big footsteps at TSU
With Whites Creek’s Kenneth Pettiford signing with Tennessee State last week, it will mark a continuation of family history with the Tigers as he will follow in the footsteps of his father Kenneth Pettiford, Sr.
The elder Pettiford, a star quarterback, led TSU to a perfect 10-0 season his senior year in 1972 to win the national small college wire service championship under the late coach John Merritt. He later coached at Maplewood.
The younger Pettiford was a standout defensive back for Whites Creek which reached the semifinals of the state Class 4A playoffs the past season.
In all, TSU signed 24 players last week in Coach Rod Reed’s first recruiting class, including two other local standouts — OT Ishmael Lewis of Brentwood Academy and ex-Maplewood star DT Romario Cathey, who was at Texas Tech for one season but transferred to be back in his hometown.
Also, the Tigers signed huge 6-6, 300-pound DT Robert Myers of nearby LaVergne.