Steeled by tough district, East Lit makes its way to state tournament

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:50pm

Maybe this is a team of destiny — or a Cinderella unit, at least.

Twice in the tournaments, the clock has tried to strike midnight on East Literature, but the Eagles somehow found a way to turn back the hands on that clock. That has earned them a trip to the boys Class AA state tournament next week in Murfreesboro.

Consider:

• In the first round of the region tournament Feb. 26, the Eagles barely escaped a slow-down snoozer at White House. They scraped out a 13-12 win when Sean McKissack hit a free throw with no time left in overtime.

• In the Class AA Sectionals Monday night in Lewisburg, the Eagles — with a 68-66 lead — were called for a foul on Marshall County’s Kevin Peterson with no time left. After two timeouts, Peterson made the first free throw but the second hit the rim twice before it bounced out and the East Lit players were free to celebrate.

Both were elimination games. As was an 86-73 region semifinal win over regular season district champ CPA.

Somehow the Eagles found a way to advance to their first state tourney since 2007 when they competed in Class A.

“I don’t know [about destiny],” coach Jim Fey said. “I do know that we are a hard-working team that isn’t going to go down without a fight — and that we came out of a very tough district (10-AA) which prepared us for the challenges of the tournaments.

“Our district is at least seven teams deep. Playing quality-type teams like that twice a season definitely helped us down the road.”

The win at White House got Eagles into the region semis and was one of the lowest scoring games in recent years.

“What was funny about that game was that none of our players came up to our scorekeeper asking how many points they scored — they already knew because it was pretty easy to keep count,” Fey said.

On Monday, senior guard Cheau (pronounced Shay) Hendricks scored 14 points and had the task of guarding Mr. Basketball finalist Kedren Johnson for most of the second half. Johnson finished with 34 points and six assists.

“He’s so good, he’s going to get his points,” the 5-foot-10 Hendricks said. “I just tried to pick him up in backcourt and front him where he didn’t have much room to drive and hopefully wear him down some.”

“We missed two free throws with 6.4 seconds left,” Fey said. “Kedren then drove down and we thought he would shoot. But he dished off to Peterson for a lay-up and we fouled him. I told our guys during both time outs to prepare for overtime.”

About reaching state, Hendricks said, “We feel like we have something to prove, we’ve kind of played in the shadow of others teams all season. We finished No. 3 in the district and the region. But all I care about is finishing No. 1 in the state.”

East Lit (27-6) has won 12 of its last 14 games and finds out its quarterfinal foe during a blind draw in Murfreesboro on Saturday. Its first game will be Wednesday afternoon March 16 or Thursday morning, March 17.

In 2007, the Eagles lost to eventual champ Tennessee Temple 47-34 in the quarterfinals at MTSU. Since then, it failed get out of the district tournament three straight years.

“We’re looking to play Saturday [March 19] in the finals,” Fey said. “I feel like I’m two months behind. I will be happy to go home to my family after the season. My wife [Shannon] probably thinks my face is on a milk carton since I’ve been away for so long.”

Meanwhile, he will stay in charge of a team three wins from ultimate destiny.