CHURCH HILL – Don’t look now, but the Volunteer Falcons are 3-1 after their first week of the basketball season.
After dropping a Hall of Fame game, 63-56, Thursday to Unicoi County, Mike Poe’s Young Guns ripped off three wins in a row: 51-42 over Johnson County in their second Hall of Fame game Thursday; 59-56 over Kachea Friday and 61-56 over Red Bird (Ky.) on Saturday.
“We’re 3-1,” Poe said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been 3-1 around here. There’s a lot to build on."
Saturday’s win was an exercise in perseverance. The Falcons jumped out to a 14-4 first-quarter lead, which they saw the Cardinals split to 19-14 halfway through the second period, then pulled off a 14-7 run to close the half capped by an Andrew Knittel three-pointer to take a comfortable 33-21 lead into the break of what was a frenetic first half.
The veteran Cardinals – eight of their 11 players are seniors – responded in the third quarter by outscoring the Falcons, 23-14, to pull within 47-44.
A free throw and three-pointer by Dalton Finley pushed Red Bird in front, 48-47, for their only lead of the game at the 5:29 mark of the fourth quarter.
The young Falcons answered the bell 53 seconds later when sophomore post player Garrison Barrett scored on a put-back to put Volunteer back on top, 49-48.
One minute later, Knittel, a freshman shooting guard who led Volunteer with 23 points in the win over Johnson County, hit two free throws to extend the Falcons’ lead to 51-48.
Twenty seconds later, Deagon Finley – who not only looks like his twin brother Dalton, but plays just like him – nailed a three to tie the game at 51-51 with 3:17 to play.
After Deagon missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Falcons ran a possession. Beginning at the high post, Barrett took his man on a nice spin move to put Volunteer up, 53-51, with 2:33 to go.
After the Falcons stopped the Cardinals on a one-and-done attempt at the defensive end, Barrett – growing up in front of our eyes – called for the ball beyond the arc, received the pass, turned and nailed a perfect three-pointer to extend the lead to 56-51 with 2:08 remaining.
Dalton Finley went coast to coast 55 seconds later to trim the lead to 56-53, but Heath Miller and Knittel each hit two of two free throws to left Volunteer to a 60-53 lead with 22 seconds left. Freshman point guard Bradin Minton, who dealt nine assists, added a free throw to up the lead to eight, 61-53, with nine seconds to go.
Austin Napier hit a trey with three seconds left but Red Bird could get no closer than 61-56.
“This team is going to continue to get better through the year,” Poe said. “We’ve got a lot of people that don’t have a lot of high school experience, especially playing against older kids that are going to get up in their grill quite a bit, which they did today.
“To me, other than the Unicoi County game, it’s obvious this is the best team we’ve played. They were very athletic and have mostly a senior ball club. So that was good that we were able to fight through some adversity. We went through a stretch in the third quarter and first part of the fourth quarter when we didn’t score the ball very well. We played a little pitter-pat with the ball too much,” Poe said.
“But a lot of those things will change as they get older and get a little bit more experience. I’m more than happy right now,” Poe said. “This whole thing is a learning process for us right now. I’m pleased. They’ve got great attitudes. They allow me to coach them. I’m ecstatic as to where we are right now.”