The sign behind the Franklin Road Academy the basket summed things up succinctly.
“The Road to State is here.”
It’s true. The school will host both the district and region tournaments the next two weekends. With both boys and girls teams undefeated in district play, the expectation is that both will return to the Division II-A state tournament.
“It’s special to get to play at home in the tournaments,” boys basketball coach John Pierce said after his team flattened University School of Nashville 56-33 on Friday. “We’ve been in line to host for the last couple of years, and it’s something we’ve looked forward to.”
Pierce’s Panthers are 23-3 overall, 11-0 in district games.
“It’ll be a good situation for us and if we can just protect home court, we can reach our goal of state,” girls coach Christ Hart said. “They changed the setup this year. There is no longer a Middle/East and a West. We have two districts, with seven in our district and six in the East. We’re hosting ours and Knoxville Webb is hosting the other.”
FRA’s girls are 21-3 overall, 8-0 in district contests.
In fact, if both FRA teams keep winning, they won’t have to leave town the rest of the way. Following the district tournament, the region event is at FRA Feb. 15-16. The Division II state tournament is at nearby Lipscomb Allen Arena (Feb. 28-March 2).
On senior night Friday, the boys team fell behind 10-2 after five seniors started. Not to worry, especially when one of them, 6-foot-5 Kessler Bell, scored 25 points and grabbed 23 rebounds.
But there was one additional senior highlight for FRA. It came from a senior student manager named Miller McKee who dressed out for the game.
With the crowd chanting “Miller, Miller,” he entered the game with about three minutes left. He missed a couple of 3-point attempts, but his third shot from the wing swished in with three seconds left for the first and only points of his career. The gym erupted in cheers, and he was mobbed by teammates after the final buzzer.
“Miller’s never even played in a varsity game before, and I’m not sure he’s played youth ball, either,” Pierce said. “We wanted to give him this chance on senior night. For sure, it created a lot of excitement for our fans.”
McKee is headed to Mississippi State.
Senior Chance Bouldin added 11 for FRA, which visits Davidson Academy on Tuesday when both teams try to cap an unbeaten district season.
It was “Red Out” night at FRA where admission was free with donations accepted to benefit the American Heart Association.
ANOTHER SLOW START: FRA’s girls trailed 27-13 midway through the third quarter, but awakened just in time to pulled themselves back into the game.
The Panthers finally caught up when two-time Miss Basketball winner Derica Wyatt launched in a long 3-pointer with 17 seconds left and forced overtime at 31-31.
From there, it was freshman Catera Sawyers’ two free throws with 11 seconds left that were the difference in a 35-33 victory. The Panthers dodged a final bullet when USN missed a close-in attempt in the final seconds.
Wyatt led FRA with 17 points.
“It was disappointing to see us play like that for three quarters, especially on senior night,” Hart said “[USN] out-hustled us, out-rebounded us, outplayed us, and their desire was greater than ours.”
Added Wyatt: “We didn’t play well at all the first half, but we picked up our defense and started making some plays.
“Playing at home [in tournaments] will make a big difference. Our fans have been great all year, and that gives us the confidence to go out and play well.”
Wyatt is the area’s leading scorer at an average of 22.2 points per game, a figure bolstered by a career-high 42 last Tuesday against St. Cecilia.
“I had no idea I had that many points,” she said of the St, Cecilia game. “Someone said I had 38 late, so I knew I’d like to get 40. Everything I shot was going in, it was special night. But the biggest thing was we won the game.”
There’s a good chance FRA and USN could meet in the district finals this week. USN is the No. 2 seed and would be in the opposite bracket.
FRA handed USN (14-10, 9-2) its only district defeats.
Following Tuesday;s games against Davidson Academy, both FRA’s boys and girls teams rest until their respective district openers Friday. The tournament begins with four semifinal games at 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Consolation and finals are Saturday.
• Father Ryan finished runner-up to Memphis Christian Brothers for the second straight year in the Division II state wrestling team duals. The Irish fell to the Purple Wave 42-23 Saturday at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center in Franklin.
The Irish, who finished 26-3 in dual matches, collected wins from Mike Akers (132), James Simpson (138), Mark Marchetti (160), John Hagey (182), and Trey Chalifaux (106).
Cleveland beat Wilson Central 78-4 in the Class AAA final, and Greeneville edged Pigeon Forge 36-34 in the Class A/AA final.
The state individuals are Feb. 15-16 at the Ag Center.
• Ensworth football star Corn Elder traveled to Georgia Tech over the weekend for his final official visit.
Elder has reportedly narrowed his choices to Ohio State, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Purdue coach Matt Painter has offered him a scholarship in basketball.
Elder is expected to announced his decision by national signing day Wednesday.
• In other recruiting news, Brentwood Academy’s D’Montre Wade and Goodpasture’s Jedediah Vivio committed to Murray State.
• Although out at Goodpasture, David Martin’s days as a football coach likely are not over.
“If the right opportunity presented itself, I would certainly look into it,” he said last week. “I just need to figure out some things.”
Martin is rumored to be among those under consideration for the position at the new Stewarts Creek High in Rutherford County.