by STEVE WILMOTH

TriCitiesSports.com

February 10, 2021

CHURCH HILL, Tenn. – For the first time in 14 years, the Volunteer Falcons are headed to the Region 1-AAA Tournament.

A balanced scoring output and a key defensive switch at halftime propelled Volunteer past Tennessee High, 67-59, Wednesday evening, earning the Falcons a first regional bid since defeating Sullivan Central, 79-76, on February 15, 2007.

First, the Falcons will travel to top seed Dobyns-Bennett for a District 1-AAA semifinal contest Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m.

It’s quite the coup for the young Falcons, who will be the only District 1-AAA team still standing not headed to Class 4A in the new four-tier classification next year.

“Playing in the region and getting that experience at that level and playing in that atmosphere is going to be huge for them going forward,” said Volunteer coach Mike Poe. “And we are glad to be playing for a few more weeks and our great fans are glad we will be playing a few more weeks. The ones that could get in here tonight were great, we appreciate them.”

It was Tennessee High, however, that controlled the first half. Using Wade Witcher in the teeth of the Falcon zone defense, the Vikings saw the sharpshooting sophomore sink his first four shots and score all 13 Tennessee High points in the first quarter and tally 21 through two periods as the Vikings held a 34-29 lead at the break.

“That’s what we tried to do by putting him (Witcher) in that position and he did a great job,” said Tennessee High coach Michael McMeans. “When he gets hot, he can score with anybody around here.”

A switch in defensive tactics by the Falcons, however, saw Witcher score only four hard-earned points in the final two periods.

“We came out in the second half and got some defensive stops and got a little momentum on our side and it started feeding everything,” noted Poe, whose team outscored the Vikings 18-7 in the pivotal third period.

“We expected them to come out and take Wade away in the second half and they did,” added McMeans. “That’s when other guys have to learn they have to step up and make shots. We got out-toughed there in the third quarter and let them change the flow of the game.”

Volunteer’s lead in the fourth quarter never shrank below two but never grew to more than eight either. Down the stretch, the Falcons hit just enough free throws (7-of-11) to hold off the Vikings.

“We knew it was going to be a long game,” continued Poe. “I was so proud of the way we took care of the basketball in the last three minutes.”

Poe added the Falcons were hoping to get off to a better start offensively and were frankly saved by the gutsy performance of 6-6 Eli Amyx, who scored nine of his 12 points in the first half and finished with nine rebounds and two blocks.

“Eli Amyx just decided that we weren’t going to lose,” said Poe. “He kept us in the game. He scored some baskets but the loose balls he came up with and the effort plays that he made kept us in it. Without him, they could have had us down 15.”

Bradin Minton didn’t have his best night at the charity stripe but still paced the Falcons with 14 points to go with three assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Jon Wes Lovelace, Mr. Offense off the bench, added a dozen points, ten in the second half. Garrison Barrett was also in double figures with ten points.

Andrew Knittel was just shy of double digits with eight points to go with his six assists, four steals and four rebounds. Heath Miller and Evan Berry both dished out three assists each and collected four rebounds apiece.

Tennessee High’s Witcher led all scorers with 25 points and also grabbed seven rebounds. Nysaiah Foote added 12 points and Brandon Dufore ten, all but two coming in the final period. Dufore also grabbed nine rebounds while Jaden Keller came down with eight.

McMeans said he would have like to have had the same postseason bonus for his young team the Falcons will enjoy. The Vikings figure to return everyone sans Keller, the Virginia Tech football signee.

“When it wasn’t going our way, we kind of laid back and ran and hid a little bit,” McMeans said. “I guess that’s part of the growing up and learning process. You have to learn in these type of games that every possession is important. Hopefully this experience will pay off down the road, but we’ve got to get some things changed, hit the weight room and get tougher. That’s just the bottom line.”

McMeans added his young team has simply had only on-the-job training this season since his late arrival in August.

“Hopefully we’ve grown since we got here. I’m proud of how these kids have adapted and how hard they have worked. Still, we are not near where we need to be and it’s going to take awhile. I just hope we learned some things this year about the way we have to compete, the way we have to be tougher and the way we have to go at people. That’s something a good summer and a good offseason in the weight room will take care of.”

TENNESSEE HIGH (59) – Kenyae Carter 3 0-0 6, Wade Witcher 9 3-4 25, Brandon Dufore 5 0-0 10, Jaden Keller 1 0-0 2, Braden Wilhoit 1 0-0 2, Nysaiah Foote 4 2-2 12, Maddox Fritts 0 0-0 0, Luke Cattrill 1 0-1 2, Totals 24 5-7 59.

VOLUNTEER (67) – Bradin Minton 5 3-9 14, Andrew Knittel 2 4-4 8, Evan Berry 2 0-0 4, Garrison Barrett 3 2-2 10, Eli Amyx 5 2-3 12, Heath Miller 1 1-2 3, Jon Wes Lovelace 5 1-1 12, Tucker Bellamy 1 1-2 4, Cason Christian 0 0-0 0, Totals 24 14-23 67.

 

Tennessee High

13

21

7

18

— 59

Volunteer

9

20

18

20

— 67

 

Three-Pointers – Tennessee High 6 (Witcher 4, Foote 2), Volunteer 5 (Barrett 2, Minton, Lovelace, Bellamy). Rebounds – Tennessee High 36 (Dufore 9, Keller 8, Witcher 7, Foote 5, Team 4), Volunteer 30 (Amyx 9, Berry 4, KNittel 4, Miller 4). Assists – Tennessee High 13 (Carter 6, Keller 3), Volunteer 16 (Knittel 6, Minton 3, Miller 3, Berry 3). Steals – Tennessee High 7 (Keller 2, Carter 2), Volunteer 11 (Knittel 4, Minton 3, Lovelace 2).  Blocks – Tennessee High 1 (Keller), Volunteer 5 (Amyx 2, Minton 2). Turnovers – Tennessee High 13, Volunteer 11. Total Fouls – Tennessee High 21, Volunteer 13. Technical Fouls – Wilhot, Tennessee High. Fouled Out – Foote, Tennessee High.