By Bill Sorrell
When Cordova’s boys basketball team got down, they didn’t get down and remained upbeat to beat Bolton 61-59 in the Region 7-AAA championship game on Thursday at Arlington.
“We didn’t give up,” said Cordova senior Jalen Dupree, who scored 15 points to help the Wolves win their fourth game over Bolton this season and made history doing it.
“We just happened to bring the first region championship to Cordova High School in school history. We are glad to be the first team to win a region championship. We are trying to make it to Murfreesboro,” said Cordova head coach Terrance Scales.
The Wolves (28-3) are state-tournament bound. In the sectional on Monday at Cordova, they toppled Southwind, Region 8-AAA runner-up, 72-65 to earn a berth.
Playing a sectional game on Monday, Bolton lost to East, Region 8 champions, 78-61, and ended the season with a 17-12 record.
The Wolves needed a 3-pointer by region tournament MVP and District player-of-the year Tyler Harris to secure the historic win against Bolton, whom they defeated in the District 14-AAA title game.
“I think that clutch three by Tyler was big,” said Bolton head coach Harold Scott. “If he had not hit that I think we would have been right where we needed to be.”
Trailing 48-37 with 6:10 left in the game, the Wolves began to whittle the deficit buoyed by free throw accuracy. Cordova sank 10 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter with Dupree hitting 6 of 7.
They also got a message from their coach.
“I told the guys that we worked too hard to just lay down at this point. This is a championship game. You have five minutes left. That is more than enough time. You have just got to fight and tighten up on the defensive side of the floor and brace for the open-court opportunities. Then we will be OK and that is what we were able to do,” said Scales, who is in his seventh year as Cordova head coach.
“We started putting three and four stops together in a row and cut that 10-point lead to four in a minute and a half and that gave us confidence and made them tighten up a little bit once the lead got cut so quickly.”
After Dupree’s basket cut the lead to 51-45, he sank three straight free throws. Two more free throws by Harris made it a one-point deficit. A steal by Cordova’s Roderick Brown led to a trey by Harris and Cordova was on top 53-51 with 2:35 left. It was the first Cordova lead since Brown hit a basket with 2:36 left in the second quarter to make it 24-23.
Free throws by Bolton’s Jaylen Fisher, a senior who has committed to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, tied the game at 53. Deonte Jones then gave the Wildcats a 55-53 lead. But the Wolves used a goal and free throw by Blake Williams to regain the lead, 56-55.
A dunk by Bolton’s Morgan Garner, after a steal by Fisher, gave Bolton a one-point edge, 57-56. Harris’ trey, which proved to be the game-winner, followed with 32 seconds left. It put Cordova ahead 59-57.
Two more free throws by Williams cushioned Cordova’s lead, which the Wolves would need as Jones scored his eighth point of the game, closing the gap to 61-59.
Playing together, keying on the defensive end and no longer “giving up easy looks” were factors said Dupree, a Murray State commit who is 6-9, 225 and averages 17 points.
Of the tell-tale free throws, Dupree said, “It’s just practice. We have worked on this since the last district game and I just felt like I had my normal routine together. I was able to stay calm and I made my free throws.”
Cordova sank 15 of 21 free throws for the game, Bolton 8 of 15.
In his second year as Bolton head coach, Scott said, “The biggest thing tonight was free throws. We missed free throws at the end. If we had made those we would be celebrating right now.”
Harris, a sophomore, was celebrating.
“It feels good,” said Harris of the Wolves’ first region championship. “I got to lead my teammates. I put them on my back tonight. I thank everybody for staying with me.”
Harris scored a game-high 24 points, four above his average. “Our coach told us to get down and dirty. That is what we did. We came out there and had to fight back and that is why our coach is proud of us now. We had the dog in us,” said Harris.
Although an underdog, Bolton exceeded expectations.
“We were second in the district and region. At the end of the day, we weren’t expected to be here and at the same time nobody is going to give you anything, you have to earn it,” said Scott. “Being second, I am satisfied as long as my kids gave everything they had on the floor. I think that is all you can ask them to do is to give all the effort they can and keep fighting. If they do that I am satisfied.”
Difficult is how Harris described beating Bolton four times.
“It’s been very hard. They have a very good team and they have a very elite point guard (Fisher). We just keep fighting through all the game all night and that is how we keep getting the victories,” said Harris.
Both teams match-up well athletically said Scales. “The district championship was really sloppy. Both teams played hard and we cleaned up at the end and were able to pull it out (70-63).”
In the region championship, Cordova got off to what Scales called a “great start.” The Wolves took an 18-8 lead with highlight 3-pointers by Harris, which was the first score of the game, and Curtis Reeder, Jr., and a dunk by Dupree.
Bolton then outscored the Wolves 15-1. Martavious Wilson, who finished with 16 points, got an assist from Fisher to cut the lead to 19-14. A dunk by Bruce Good cut it to 19-16. Fisher’s first basket with 6:18 left pulled the Wildcats within 19-18 and Sam Granberry’s free throw tied it at 19 with 4:39 left in the second quarter.
Good’s steal and then his basket gave the Wildcats their first lead at 21-19 with 4:24 left. A goal by Jordan Woods with 14 seconds left gave the Wildcats a 27-26 lead.
“It always helps our confidence to get off to a great start,” said Scales. “I think we kind of relaxed a little bit. I guess we thought they were going to lay down. They did a good job of cutting the lead and staying focused and grinding it out and we got a little lax on offense and gave up a couple of easy layups on four rotations. We had to clean that up and I think we did a good job of that.”
Scott said, “Our defense sparked that run mostly. It was our guys’ effort as far as defense goes and we were looking for each other as we were going down the floor making sure that we get the ball to the right person to attack the rim. Overall the effort was good as far as the defense goes. Here and there if we had just picked it up a little bit more, I think we would have pulled it off.”
With 6:14 left in the second, Fisher was going for a ball with Dupree and took a knee in the chest from Dupree. He grimaced in pain and was treated on the Bolton bench. Scott said that the injury “kind of hurt his game a little bit.” Fisher finished with 5 points.
He returned to play in the second quarter with timely steals, assists and baskets the rest of the game.
Wilson scored eight points in the third quarter to expand Bolton’s lead to 40-33. Two free throws by A.J. Jones gave Bolton a 44-37 lead at the end of the quarter. Wilson and Jones have some junior college looks said Scott.
Cordova played the season without one of its best players, Kevion Stewart, who has committed to play at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Stewart, who averaged about 15 points, has been injured.
“Having to play without a 14-15 point scorer, we have had to be able to overcome a lot of adversity,” said Scales. “These guys have weathered all the storms and I am really proud of them.”
Scales, who played basketball at Columbia (Tenn.) State, was pleased with the play of Harris, Brown, Dupree and Williams he said. “They played a great floor game.”
Brown and Williams finished with 5 points each and Reeder 11.
“People don’t know that our role players can go to any other school in the city and they can be starters but they know how to play their roles and that is why I like those guys,” said Harris.
Scoring for Bolton also included Morgan Garner 2, Sam Granberry 3, Jones 8, Decorrian Kelly 2, Woods 2.
Making the all-tournament team were Harris, Dupree, Brown of Cordova, Fisher, Jones of Bolton and Nathan Hoover of Arlington.
Hoover was wearing a Wofford College hoodie at the region championship. He has committed to the college in Spartanburg, S.C.
“Wofford showed the most interest. They came to my house. I went down there and saw how great all the coaches are and loved all the players and loved the facility. I saw that I could make an impact coming in as a freshman,” said Hoover, who is 6-4, 175.
The Tigers were eliminated by Bolton in the region semifinals. Their season included defeating top-ranked teams and the nation’s fifth best.
“I just got the feeling that we should be here,” said Hoover of the championship game. “I am going to work on my game and get bigger and get ready for college.”
Bolton went into its sectional game with the belief that “anything can happen” said Scott, who played at East Central Community College in Mississippi and West Georgia.
His players’ academic scholarships are his boast. “That is the biggest one for me, academic scholarships,” said Scott, whose team learned how to fight throughout the season.
“I think we have been battle tested this year and we have come out and done what we were supposed to do. Hopefully they will learn what it takes to get to the next level. I am grateful I have a group of guys like this.”
For Dupree, the region championship “means a lot since we got eliminated this time last year in this round. To come out and win the tournament for the first time in Cordova history, it feels real good.”