DUNLAP, Tenn. - Not only were each of the current Bledsoe County players more than a decade from even being born the last time the school won a boys' district basketball tournament, but even coach Mark Cagle barely can recall it. Cagle was only 7 when his father Harold coached the Warriors to a district title 30 years ago.
But Tuesday night, Bledsoe County broke the long dry spell and added a new championship plaque with a 73-64 win over Signal Mountain for the 7-AA title at Sequatchie County.
"This was the first of our goals for the season, to finally win the district tournament again," said Warriors senior Jamal Worthington, who contributed 20 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots. "Now we can celebrate this for now and then get ready for our next goal, to win the region."
Worthington, who had helped Bledsoe sweep the regular-season series with a buzzer-beater at Signal Mountain and a dominating home performance, again was key in the Warriors getting off to a quick start. He had seven points, three assists, three rebounds and two blocks in the first quarter as the Warriors (23-6) jumped to a 9-0 lead and built a double-digit margin later in the quarter.
The lead swelled to 13 before the Eagles closed the first half on a 10-2 run, then cut it to three with a quick basket to open the third quarter.
Bledsoe was able to rebuild its advantage to 19 twice in the third quarter before Signal Mountain mounted another rally. Cody Challener scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half and sparked a 20-6 run to get the Eagles within five. Making things even more troublesome for Bledose, Worthington was called for his fourth foul during that Signal Mountain surge.
But again the Warriors countered, starting with a three-point play by Blake McCloud, which was the first of a 9-2 run for Bledsoe that put the game away.
Worthington played the final 3:08 with four fouls and capped the win when he trailed McCloud on a fastbreak, caught a ricochet pass off the glass from McCloud and threw down an emphatic dunk.
"To be at the level Jamal is, the biggest thing that stands out to me about him is how unselfish he is," Cagle said. "You look at his stat line and see it's not just points. He's just as happy to get the assists, because as long as we're scoring as a team and winning, that's what he cares about.
"It was really big for us to get out to a good early start and take that lead to put them back on their heels. It gave us a lot of confidence, and obviously we needed it the way they kept fighting back. But I'm proud of the way our kids hung in there and answered every time they made a run. This is pretty special for us."