By Noah McKay
MURFREESBORO – The White County Warriors season came to an end in a 64-52 loss against the MLK Royals on Tuesday in the quarterfinal round of the Class 3A state tournament.
The Royals controlled the rebounding battle in the game and used a strong third quarter to end the Warriors’ season despite a valiant comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.
“We came out like we were supposed to,” said WCHS head coach Eric Mitchell. “We got up early. In the second quarter, we went cold. We were able to stay close, and the wheels ran off (in the third quarter). It was kind of a blur. These guys are warriors and I knew they wouldn’t be intimidated by (MLK). We got it back to down five… we just couldn’t buy a free throw. We had our opportunities. You’ve got to take your hats off to MLK.”
The Warriors opened the first frame on a 7-0 run on baskets by Jakeb Davis and Thomas Paul, but the Royals answered by forcing three turnovers to spur a 5-0 run to make it 7-5 after one quarter.
The second quarter was largely controlled by the Royals, with Japheth Richmond and Tripp Pinion each picking up their second personal foul, and the Warriors missing their final nine shots of the second quarter as MLK led 20-17 at halftime.
The Royals took control of the game in the third quarter, going on four different 6-0 and 7-0 runs as they expanded the lead to 52-32 after three quarters.
The resilient Warriors battled back in the fourth quarter, scoring the opening 15 points of the frame with three triples by Christian Henderson to cut the deficit to just 52-47 with 4:54 remaining. The Royals answered with an 8-0 run after Henderson fouled out of the game to regain a cushion and secure the victory.
“Everybody had high expectations for this group,” said Mitchell. “They all came together during tournament time. We had probably had the toughest regular season schedule I’ve had since the Murfreesboro district. MLK had to play really well tonight to beat us.”
The Royals outrebounded the Warriors 48-18 in the contest.
“They just had too many second-chance points,” said Mitchell. “I never imagined they were that good of a rebounding team… we haven’t gotten outrebounded that bad all year. That’s incredible.”
Henderson led the way for Sparta with 15 points. Paul tallied 13 points. Davis scored eight with Thomas Brock scoring seven. Pinion added five and Richmond scored two points.
The game marked the final high school contest for seniors Paul, Davis, Richmond, Henderson, Brock and Logan Dickerson.
The Warriors finished the season with a 24-12 record. They were the Region 4/3A champions and made their 14th trip to the state tournament in school history. It was their first appearance since 2015.
“Coming into the tournament, they finished fourth (in the regular season),” said Mitchell. “They just turned it up a notch. Everything started clicking. They really came together. There won’t be another (group) like them. I’m terribly proud of them.”
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