Silverdale Baptist proud of finish despite DII-A semifinal loss

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Silverdale Baptist's Kennedy Okpara scores at the rim in Friday's TSSAA Division II-A state semifinal against First Assembly Christian School at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.
Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Silverdale Baptist's Kennedy Okpara scores at the rim in Friday's TSSAA Division II-A state semifinal against First Assembly Christian School at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

Note: This story was updated on March 1 to correct Kennedy Okapor's scoring total.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — For Silverdale Baptist Academy, the 2023-24 boys' basketball season provided the thrill of a lifetime to a group of hungry individuals who accomplished their dream of taking the program to new heights.

The Seahawks just weren't able to soar quite as far as they would have liked.

On Friday, top-ranked Silverdale went toe to toe with No. 2 First Assembly Christian School, but the Chattanooga program fell just short of its state championship goal with a 66-59 loss to the Memphis area's Crusaders in a TSSAA Division II-A semifinal at Tennessee Tech.

The close of a 30-win season did not come without incredible moments for Silverdale, which made the first three baskets of the game with 3-pointers by seniors Brett Wright and Elyjah Richardson and sophomore Judah Richardson to force FACS to take a timeout to regroup while trailing 9-0 early.

Wright and fellow Silverdale star Kennedy Okpara, a junior, both had slam dunks on putback baskets and combined for 36 points in the tough defeat.

Still, the Seahawks (30-4) surpassed their record for victories by 13 and won district and region tournament championships for the first time in the history of a program that began in 2005.

"I was so proud to look up and see the bottom bowl filled with Silverdale people," said Seahawks coach Slater Belew, whose team started this season 17-0 and was 6-0 in the postseason entering the state semifinals. "I couldn't be prouder of what these guys accomplished this year and the legacy they have cemented.

"They played great basketball down to the wire, and I am super proud of everyone in the locker room. I wouldn't trade any one of them for anyone else. I love them."


FACS (26-3), the 2022 DII-A state champion, was propelled to victory by sophomore MJ Hayes, whose toughness and explosiveness led to a game-high 23 points — and a performance filled with highlight-reel plays and dunks. The Crusaders also dominated on the offensive glass, where they had 15 of their 31 rebounds compared to just 17 total for Silverdale.

Wright drained his first three attempts from long distance, including two of five 3-pointers in the first quarter for the Seahawks, who led 17-13 as the period ended. However, he would have to sit for much of the second quarter with two fouls as the Crusaders shot 8-of-10 from the field in the period and built a 32-25 halftime lead.

Silverdale cut its deficit to one score when Wright hit his final 3-point attempt, bringing the Seahawks within 35-32 with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Despite a 10-point deficit in the fourth, Wright would also provide a spark when he rose for a putback dunk off a 3-point miss to make it 50-46 with 3:59 to play.

"I couldn't ask for a better group of teammates, coaches and Silverdale community," said Wright, who signed last fall with Nashville's Trevecca Nazarene, an NCAA Division II program. "I love these guys more than anything, and the relationships won't go away. Our hard work this season really paid off, and I know the young guys will carry it on for us."

Okpara led the Seahawks with 19 points and seven rebounds, and he also finished the game with a large cut near his left eye after being hit hard in the face while getting fouled in the third quarter.

"We gave this Final Four our best and did whatever Coach told us to do and played hard for Silverdale," Okpara said. "I am happy how far this program has come this season and thankful for my teammates who helped us get to a place we had never come close to before."

Silverdale started the game 5-of-7 from 3-point range and finished 9-of-20, with the Richardson brothers and Wright combining for eight makes from behind the arc.

FACS junior point guard Jacob Walker had 15 points and six assists, but he was also forced into six turnovers. Cello Jackson was a force in the second quarter and finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Crusaders, who advance to play Providence Christian (29-4) on Saturday night. The Murfreesboro program beat Evangelical Christian School 54-40 in Friday's first semifinal, which kept the title matchup from being a pairing of two teams from Cordova.

Silverdale senior Houston Holland's three assists tied for the team high with Okpara and Elyjah Richardson, who also made a trio of 3-pointers.

"We are very fortunate to have this great of a season," Holland said. "It is all due to the effort and the grind we put in from the first day we stepped in the gym this summer together. We are blessed to reach all-new heights but fell just short of what we wanted."

Silverdale's seniors leaving a lasting legacy behind them, but their coach expects them to succeed far beyond the court in the future.

"What's even more important than being good basketball players is we have great young men who are going to do great things in college and their careers," Belew said. "They will shine Jesus' light into the community, and I am blessed to have coached them. We are so grateful for the opportunity, and it only happened because of all the hard work they put in this whole year."

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