MILLINGTON — DJ Simpson and the Bolton Wildcat coaching staff has been building toward this moment for years.
On the brink of a District 14-3A Basketball Tournament championship Tuesday night in the William Osteen Gymnasium, Simpson and the Wildcats had to wait four extra minutes to obtain the gold plaque.
The scoreboard read 61-61 after regulation against the No. 1 seeded Arlington Tigers. Bolton got big plays from Trevor Jackson, Kendall Stimage and tournament MVP Jaylen Fisher in overtime to emerge victors 70-68.
“It took a lot of energy and guys came off the bench and gave us good energy,” Simpson said. “We just kept trying to take it to primary players. Two of them fouled out which helped us out a lot. It allowed us to press them a little bit more toward the end of the game.”
The Tigers watched guards Cody Hailstock and UMass signee CJ Anderson head to the bench in the fourth quarter and overtime.
With that duo on the floor, Arlington kept the game close trailing 16-14 after one quarter. The Wildcats kept their upset bid alive leading 33-31 at the break.
Bolton spread it’s advantage in the third quarter to 47-39 after a layup form Stimage. That was the score heading into the final period of regulation.
Wildcat guard Nick Brunson put Bolton ahead 50-41 in the fourth quarter hitting a triple. Then the Tigers displayed how they earned the regular-season district championship with a 12-2 run to take a 53-52 lead.
Arlington got points from Anderson, Hailstock, KJ Bates, Nathan Hoover and Adarius Avery. The score became 52-51 in favor of Bolton after an Avery trey.
The Tigers took the lead when Anderson drove to the rim for a layup. Fisher grabbed the lead back for the Wildcats using his dribbling skills to create space to drive toward the basket.
Anderson made the score 55-54 with another layup. Arlington went ahead 57-54 after foul shots.
With the score 57-55, Anderson committed his fifth foul with less than 2 minutes remaining.
“CJ is a great player,” Simpson said. “Once I saw him go out, I felt a little bit more comfortable. He’s a playmaker. And my guys don’t quit and that’s what I love about them.”
But it appeared the Tigers were still on their way to victory when Hoover made two free throws.
Down by four points, the Wildcats got a big three-pointer from DeAunte Houston to make the tally 59-58. Bates put the Tigers up by three points with a layup. With 17.4 seconds remaining in the game Stimage made the game-tying triple to deadlock the game at 61-61.
Arlington couldn’t get a shot off in time in regulation sending the championship game to overtime.
In the overtime the game was tied at 63-63, 65-65 and 66-66. Fisher broke the tie for good driving to the basket once again for a clutch layup.
“Tournament MVP, he played great against Kingsbury,” Simpson recalled. “And he played great again tonight. When we needed a big bucket, he drove it to the hole strong and wasn’t afraid to take contact.”
After Fisher made the score 68-66, Stimage made the score 70-66 with two foul shots. The Tigers cut the deficit in half with a Luke Wiseman bucket.
But the Tigers ran out of time and the No. 2 seeded Wildcats were champs. Among the celebration on the Millington Gymnasium floor, Simpson took a moment to reflect on his team’s journey to this point.
“I’m proud of them and it was a total team effort,” he said. “It shows the program is growing. The first time we only won 8. Then we went to 16. Now my kids are hanging a district banner.
“It means a lot to me,” Simpson concluded fighting back tears. “It means more for the kids. That’s what it’s about. These are great kids. They fight tough and nail for you. Blood, sweat and tears, they’re going to give me everything they’ve got.”
The Wildcats will host the first round of the Region 7-3A Tournament Saturday night at 7 p.m.