March Madness came a couple of days early for Franklin Road Academy, which just celebrated the greatest basketball weekend in school history.
Accomplishing something never done in the same year, both the Panthers girls and boys teams won their Sectional games and advanced to their DII-A respective state tournaments, which begin Thursday at Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
Last Friday, the FRA girls (25-3), led by reigning Miss Basketball Derica Wyatt, crushed St. George’s 52-16 to earn their ticket. Wyatt, who last week was nominated for Miss Basketball again, scored 20 points and hit four 3-pointers in the blowout win.
Then Saturday afternoon, the Panthers boys (26-6) started slowly, but then used a 20-point second quarter to build momentum for a 67-47 over First Assembly Christian and charge into the boys tournament.
Both teams are first up in Thursday’s Final Four matinee session. FRA’s girls meet Harding Academy (19-7) at 2 p.m., followed by the FRA boys against Jackson Christian (22-7) at 3:30 p.m.. Winners advance to the finals.
“It’s been a little overwhelming,” Wyatt said. “It’s good that we’re playing our best basketball at this point in the season.”
Asked about the key to being successful in state, Wyatt said, “play defense. That’s what’s gotten us this far and why things are going well. Everyone is showing up each game.”
“It’s been a great week,” coach Chris Hart said. “In the region tournament, we played three very good halves, one in the second half of our semis win and two great ones in the championship game against Webb. Then we really stepped up our defensive intensity against a good St. George’s team.”
FRA held St. George’s scoreless in the third quarter and used the scoring of Wyatt and Mariah Canady (11 points) to return to state. The Panthers, who were DII-A runners-up last year, also reached the state tournament as a Class AA team in 2006.
It seeks to avenge a 52-43 state finals loss last March to Harding Academy.
Of note, FRA’s 6-foot-2 post player Abby Wharton has signed with Charleston (S.C.) Southern.
Panthers boys growling
Saturday was a long day for John Pierce.
“I didn’t think 4 o’clock (tip-off time) was ever going to get here,” the FRA coach who appears to have his best team, said. “I just couldn’t wait to get started. We have five seniors, and it’s evident by how they played (Saturday). We got down early, but no one panicked or started rushing things.
“Our team was ready. We have been playing really well the last couple of weeks.”
About both teams making the tournament, Pierce said, “I’m happy for both teams. It’s been pretty fun around school the past week.”
Sophomore post player Kessler Bell and senior Connor Maitland led a balanced attack with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
“We have five seniors and we’ve been waiting four years for this,” Maitland, who played quarterback and wide receiver and has signed to play football at Tennessee Tech, said. “We [the boys and girls players] have been sitting around, talking about the possibility of us both going to state and getting that big gold ball. It’s a great experience for both teams.”
The FRA boys’ win Saturday lifted the Panthers into just the school’s second state tournament appearance. The first came in 2004 under coach Glenn Tackett when the Panthers lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champ Unaka and finished 21-14.
As one would imagine, athletic director Kurt Page was grinning ear-to-ear Saturday.
“This is tremendous, it is a tribute to our entire community, coaches, parents and especially our student-athletes for working so hard for this goal,” he said. “These players all care about each other, and there’s lots of love shared.”
FRA hopes there is more celebrating to do as they take aim on a pair of big gold trophies, which will be awarded after the finals Saturday afternoon at Allen Arena.
• Upset special: The Cane Ridge girls pulled off biggest upset of the weekend in Region 6-AAA when the Ravens, the No. 4 finishers in the district, scored a shocking 48-41 win over of District 11-AAA champ Brentwood High on Friday on the Bruins’ home court.
Leading nearly the entire way, Senica Reid scored 19 points, and tiny 5-foot point guard Tasia Blue added 11, which included several key free throws in the closing minutes.
Blue’s steady leadership, especially against the Bruins’ press, was a big key.
“I knew it was important for me to keep things under control and show leadership,” Blue, who signed with Cumberland 10 day ago, said. “We’re making history, this is our time.”
“This is such a blessing for a school, which this year has our first senior class,” coach Joanne Tribue said. “It’s our first region tournament, our first region tournament win.”
Asked if it was the biggest win in her playing or career, Tribue said, “it certainly ranks right up there.”
But as Tribue told her team in the dressing room after the game, “We have to have a short memory. We turn right around and play an excellent Ravenwood team [Monday night in the semifinals].”
• Goodpasture coach Joey Spann is reportedly resting comfortably at Vanderbilt Hospital after undergoing triple bypass surgery Saturday. Spann collapsed at halftime near the scorers’ table at Lipscomb during the girls Region 5-AA quarterfinal game and was rushed to the hospital after paramedics came on to the scene.
The game was postponed until Sunday afternoon, and Lipscomb advanced to the semifinals at Volunteer State with a 51-37 victory. Lillie Grace Ellenburg and Loren Cagle lead the Mustangs with 14 each.
“Our athletic director Mike Roller gave a special talk and their spokesperson John Hayes led a prayer before we started,” David Lipscomb coach Ernie Smith said. “Everyone did a wonderful job, the paramedics who rushed to the scene, and the referees, who kept everything under control and got the players to the dressing room, just everyone.”
• The Brentwood High boys didn’t let the Brentwood girls defeat affect them, as they rolled to a 57-40 win over McGavock in Region 6-AAA. Sophomore Cody Shelton poured in 20.
“I thought there may be some bad karma there, but we went out and got the job done,” coach Dennis King said. “It’s nice to have a scorer like Cody, we make sure we have a package of plays where we get him the ball, called the Cody Pack.”
• Defending state champ MBA and top-ranked Ensworth meet in the DII boys state semifinals, 6:45 p.m. Friday at Lipscomb. It is a rematch of an exciting semifinal game the two rivals had last March.
• Defending 6-AAA girls champ Hillsboro drilled Glencliff 64-49 in a rematch of last year’s final and advanced to Monday’s semifinals, where it faces Hunters Lane.
The two Metro schools were scheduled to play during the season but that game was canceled because of snow.
“We got back to doing the things that have made us successful,” Hillsboro coach Katrina Carter said. “Hunters Lane is strong all the way around, it won’t be easy.”
• East Lit’s boys survived a Region 5-AA slowdown game at White House 13-12 as Sean McKissack sank a free throw with no time remaining in overtime.
AREA TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
(at Brentwood High)
Monday’s girls semifinals
6—Hunters Lane vs. Hillsboro, girls; 7:30—Ravenwood vs. Cane Ridge.
Tuesday’s boys semifinals
6—Overton vs. Ravenwood; 7:30—Hunters Lane vs. Brentwood.
7 p.m.—Girls final.
7 p.m.—Boys final.
(at Vol State, Gallatin)
Monday’s girls semifinals
6:00—Lipscomb vs. Sycamore; 7:30—CPA vs. Macon County.
Tuesday’s boys semifinals
6:00—Sycamore vs. Maplewood; 7:30—CPA vs. East Lit.
(at Community High)
7:30 p.m.—Nashville Christian School vs. McEwen, boys semifinals.
DII-AA State tournament
(at Lipscomb, Allen Arena)
2:00—FRA vs. Harding Academy, girls; 3:30 – FRA vs. Jackson Christian, boys; 5:15—Fayette Academy vs. Webb, girls; 6:45—ECS vs. Ezell-Harding, boys.
11 a.m.—Girls finals; 1 p.m.—Boys finals.
DII-A State tournament
(at Lipscomb, Allen Arena)
2 p.m.—GPS vs. St. Benedict, girls; 3:30—McCallie vs. Briarcrest, boys; 5:15—Ensworth vs. Briarcrest, girls; 6:45—Ensworth vs. MBA, boys.
3 p.m. Girls finals; 5 p.m.—Boys finals.