In a fierce battle featuring three foul-outs and a technical, the Bledsoe County Warriors emerged bruised but victorious with a 66-54 defeat of Signal Mountain in the District 7-AA tournament boys' championship game Tuesday.
Bledsoe County scored 18 points in the first quarter while holding the host Eagles to five, but Signal Mountain managed to bounce back strong.
"It was a very intense, very physical game," said Bledsoe's Mark Cagle, the district's coach of the year. "There was a lot of pushing and shoving, and the refs let us play."
Only two Bledsoe County players managed to score in the second quarter, Nathanial Collins with seven points and Taylor Warden with a 3-point basket. Collins led all scorers with 15 in the first half.
The second half provided the sparks, as the game heated up. Bledsoe scored the first five points, looking for a repeat of its first-quarter performance, but Signal Mountain wrestled the momentum away and clawed at the deficit. A bucket and one from the Eagles' TaDarrius Hodge cut the lead to 38-32 before the Warriors answered back.
"We almost had to empty the bucket to prepare for this game," Cagle said. "Signal came out with a lot of different stuff in the previous two games, and in a game like this you have to be ready for anything they can throw at you."
Collins found his groove and would not allow his team to relinquish its lead, scoring 15 more points for a game-high 30 and the tournament MVP honor.
"It took me a while to get my game flowing, missing a couple of shots and bad free throws early," Collins said, "but my team kept working hard, and I kept working hard. I work hard 24/7, and I just feel so good right now. I'm glad we won this game."
Collins said he has overcome injury and the loss of his mother to get to this point, and his brother has helped him stay the course.
"I've got a brother to take care of me and tell me to have heart," Collins said. "I know I have to work harder. I'm not the best, yet, but I know I can be."
He had 11 points in the final period, when Signal again closed the gap to six with 1:18 left to play. But Bledsoe got the lead back to double digits.
"Signal put out a tremendous effort," Cagle said. "They would get within seven, six or five, but we were able to battle back and hold onto the lead we built in the first quarter."
This marks the second second district title in a row for the Warriors, and their larger goal is clear.
"Hopefully we can get further than last year and make it to Murfreesboro -- to the state," Collins said.
Contact Idris Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.