Ricky Bowers’ voice was hoarse.
A mild chest cold was partly to blame. Mostly it was because the Ensworth boys coach implored his team to reach the heights a second straight state basketball championship.
His Tigers (24-6) rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit (27-19) that grew to nine early in the second half down and toppled Briarcrest 61-52 in a hard-fought Division II-AA championship game Saturday at Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
Bowers, who has guided Ensworth to three state titles in the past four years (he’s led the football team to two others), saluted his seniors — Rico Watson, Nathan Watkins, Will Downey and Keshonn Carter.
“Those four seniors — each one of them played a huge role in our success,” Bowers said. “In different games, each of them was the difference for our winning the game.”
Junior Corn Elder was named tournament MVP for the second straight year. Downey and Watkins also were named to the all-tournament team.
“We just stayed after it,” Downey, a 6-foot-1 sharpshooter who wound up with almost 100 3-pointers this season, including three Saturday, said. “The 19 points was the lowest we’ve scored in a half all year, so we knew we had to pick up our offense.”
Downey’s 3 late in the third quarter finally gave Ensworth the lead, 40-37.
“All we heard before the season started was that we lost too much to graduation and there was no way we would repeat,” Downey, who committed to play at Sewanee, said. “But we’ve all been in the weight room since June. We worked very hard, and it paid off.”
Said Bowers: “This was a completely different team from last year. The chemistry was very good. It’s all about getting to loose balls, getting great shots, and this team did that.
“Keshonn scored 16 points Friday, none Saturday. Nathan scored seven Friday, 20 Saturday. Guys picked each other up all season.”
Elder scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists in the title game.
His secret might have been a change of shoes — from black to orange ones at halftime. He scored just four points and was 0-of-9 from the field before the switch.
“I wasn’t hitting anything the first half, so I made the change,” Elder, a Mr. Basketball finalist, said. “I did it once before, against Hillsboro.
“Winning this year was very special, because it’s so hard to repeat. We didn’t do much offensively the first half, so we knew we had to keep fighting.”
• Out of nowhere: Donelson Christian Academy became one of the true Cinderella stories of the season.
Behind tournament MVP Josh Erickson, the Wildcats (19-10) won their first title when they thundered past area rival University School of Nashville 55-33 in the DII-A boys final.
Coach Presley Ramsey now has guided two Nashville area schools to their first state championships. In 1998, he took his Gerrod Shirey-led Ezell-Harding boys team to the Class A crown in Murfreesboro.
On Saturday, 14 years later, he could thank Erickson, who scored 15 points. That performance included a 3-pointer two seconds before the halftime buzzer that gave DCA a 28-14 led and another hoop at the third quarter buzzer for 45-22 advantage.
DCA finished the season with an eight-game winning streak and won 12 of its last 13. When the championship game ended, joyous DCA students rushed the floor.
“It was a miracle run,” an emotional Ramsey said. “We finished in a tie for fifth in the region regular season, and before that, we lost Joshua Joy, a starter. The first time we played USN, they ran us off the floor. Our defense [this time] was phenomenal.
“As a coach, you just hope you can get your team into position to reach a state tournament. Once you get there, anything can happen. At Ezell, we lost in the region finals, which meant we had to go on the road to play Moore County, which was ranked No. 1 in the state. We won by two points to get to state, then we won three more at there including a double overtime win [over Tennessee Temple] in the finals.
DCA’s Carson Outlaw, who scored 16 points, Collin Johnston and Jake Singer also made all-tournament team.
“Our AD, Dennis Goodwin, got all the yellow shirts printed, we had breakfast at school, then we went out and played a great game,” Ramsey said.
• Miss Basketball, part II: Franklin Road Academy junior guard Derica Wyatt won the DII-A Miss Basketball award for the second time in her career Saturday after the finals.
She also won it two years ago as a freshman.
But the defending state champ Panthers lost to Knoxville Webb 41-34 in the final as the Spartans avenged a finals loss last year as well as a regular season and region tournament loss this year.
Behind Miss Basketball winner, tourney MVP and Auburn signee Chadarryl Clay, Chattanooga GPS drilled Ensworth 57-40 in the DII-AA girls final. Clay scored 21 while Christina Slay had 12 for Ensworth (22-7).
• CPA rolls to state again: Host Christ Presbyterian Academy turned back Page High 53-44 Saturday to reach the Class AA state for the second time in the last three years.
Faith LeGate scored 21 and Lauren Thompson 12 to lead the Lions who reached the quarterfinals two years ago.
“Getting to state has been our goal all season long,” LeGate, a junior forward, said. “It is so awesome for our team to accomplish that.”
The Lions play Memphis Manassas11:30 a.m. Wednesday at MTSU.
CPA (33-3) is the only Nashville team to earn a spot in this year’s state tournament. In Class AAA sectionals, Mt. Juliet knocked out host Antioch 49-37, and undefeated Clarksville (36-0) ended Brentwood’s season with a 55-34 romp.
• Pan-Am gold: Former Montgomery Bell Academy and West Point wrestler Phillip Simpson won the gold medal at 145.5 (66 kg) for the U.S. in the recent Pan-American Championships freestyle wrestling tournament in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Simpson, who celebrated his 29th birthday during the event, beat Elvis Fuentes Blanco of Venezuela with a first period pin. It capped a great weekend for U.S. wrestlers who went 19-2 with six championships.
Simpson, a 2001 MBA grad, was 149-1 during his high school career when he was ranked No. 1 in the nation. He is fifth in career wins with 105 at Army, finishing there in 2005. He is son of MBA coach Frank Simpson and nephew of Ryan coach Pat Simpson.
• Sutton steps down: Karen Sutton has decided to step down as girls basketball coach at Harpeth Hall but will remain as the school’s athletic director.
Sutton, the former Karen Schwartz, guided the Honeybears to state titles in 2003 and 2005 and made the choice to spend more time to her AD duties.
• Champs honored: The Stratford Class A/AA state champion boys track team, which won the school’s first team title, was honored during the Region 5-AA boys final last Thursday. The team had but nine members and is coached by Brian Harrell.
(all games at 7 p.m.)
Wilson Central at Brentwood High
Hunters Lane at Clarksville
David Lipscomb at Spring Hill
Giles County at Christ Presbyterian Academy