SPENCER, Tenn.–Van Buren County’s Tourney-clinching 71-44 victory over long-time rival Pickett County was so exhilarating and electrifying that junior wing Jacob Crain could not keep his No. 34 jersey on in the midst of the madness. ‘
“We’ve had more blood on uniforms this year and had to change jerseys more than I could ever remember in my life,” Eagles head coach Dustin Sullivan explained with a mumbled chuckle. “It seemed like it almost happens every game. We’ve got getting in and out of uniforms down to a science, quick. That’s what it was, Jacob had blood on his uniform.”
The more important bloodshed Monday night was the bad kind as the Eagles eased past an old district rival for their spot in the State Tourney. The honor of squaring off and defeating a traditional state powerhouse was not only special for the team, but for Sullivan.
“I grew up listening to Picket County and stories of how they were good,” Sullivan said. “Almost everyone of those stories I grew up with had a bad ending, so I grew up knowing they were a good basketball program. I’m gonna give a piece of this net to my dad because there’s not a win we’ve ever had since I’ve coached here that means more to me than tonight’s did to him. There’s just been so much heartbreak in the past from playing their basketball program.”
Although Pickett County might have been favored by history alone, it was the Eagles who came out swinging first with an early 16-6 to kick things off in the Rowdy House. The margin can be credited to a lot of great shots from behind the arc.
“It makes my job a lot easier when we shoot that good,” Sullivan remarked. “We hit 12 as a team tonight.”
The hottest sharpshooter of the night was Bo Walker who hit four in the first half while tallying up 14 points. Walker could not miss from his spot on the wing.
“He was just hot,” Junior guard Caden Mills said. “He has nights like that every night. But, when he gets a little extra, like tonight, we just want to get him the ball. We don’t care who scores, we just want to do it.”
The Eagles led 22-9 at the end of the 1st quarter, but during the next period, Pickett County started to tear into Van Buren’s cushion. The Bobcats’ Bryan Gibson and Bryson Yorke kept the game within range, but it was Dawson Abbott that pulled Pickett County within striking distance with back-to-back threes at the end of the 1st half.
“Those two threes he hit at the end of the half was him in a nutshell this season,” Sullivan explained, referring to Abbott. “He might be one of the top two or three shooters in the state. He’s phenomenal. We wanted to key in on him. We actually spent so much energy on him that we gave up some shots from Gibson.”
Into the second half, Walker hit two more treys from behind the arc and combined with Mills for the first ten points of the third period.
“We were handling their press pretty well,” Sullivan added. “Sometimes that’s the worry when they press is trying not to turn them over on the other end. In transition it’s hard to match up and find the shooters, and that’s where Bo got caught up and started hitting.”
The Eagles went on to grab the 71-44 victory over Pickett County while getting in a dab of 2nd-stringers in the closing minutes of the game. Walker and Mills would combine for 57 of Van Buren’s point total (71), outscoring Pickett County’s team total by 13 points. The draw for the State Tournament bracket is slated for Tuesday night at MTSU.
And as for Crain, he’ll be sure to pack an extra jersey or two for the trip to Murfreesboro.
PCHS — 9 | 16 | 13 | 6 || 44
VBHS — 22 | 9 | 20 | 20 || 71
PCHS (44) — Bryson Yorke (17), Bryan Gibson (10), Dawson Abbott (8), Trent Young (4), Clay Smith (3), Parker Gore (2)
VBHS (71) — Caden Mills (34), Bo Walker (23), Jacob Crain (5), Austin Miller (4), Hunter Evans (3), Dillon Young (2)