MURFREESBORO, Tenn.–Two years ago, the Eagles ended their season with an opening round loss in the State Tourney.
Since then, the program taken a major upswing to district and regional dominance. The records were closer to perfect than .500. Caden Mills and Bo Walker are commodities known statewide. And the Eagles already overcame the first round hurdle last season.
So, the feeling that head coach Dustin Sullivan and his squad experienced after their 78-69 loss to Columbia Academy Thursday was the complete and utter opposite of that feeling two years ago when the Eagles brilliantly shocked the world.
“It’s a lot sicker feeling this time,” Sullivan explained. “The first year, it was fun. It was nice. We came in, and we did some stuff. Even if we came back next year and won the whole doggone thing, it’s still not going to make me fell better about blowing this opportunity.”
The Eagles garnered an early 23-14 lead late in the first quarter, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 11-7 in the first quarter. The Eagles were sticking to the boards early with Binkley and Mills combined for 19 points and six rebounds. As the second quarter began, the Eagles were riding high, but Columbia Academy was starting to pull even with Van Buren.
“We played really strong after the first quarter,” Bulldogs head coach Marty Dejarnette said. “We just tried to double everything, at that point, when Mills got the ball. And our guys just rotated great and rebounded. It was just a microcosm of how it’s been all season.”
Columbia Academy, led by Blake Kincaid and Nygil Arms who combined for 19 points in the first half, grabbed a quick lead in the second quarter before a small back-and-forth tug-of-war with Mills and Walker midway through the period. The Bulldogs would end up holding Van Buren scoreless for the last 4 minutes and 21 second of the 2nd quarter, taking a 34-27 lead into the locker room.
ARTICLE CONTINUED AFTER GALLERY
“I felt like they wanted to rebound better than us,” Sullivan added. “I felt like at least four of those rebounds led to 2nd chances. Ironically, our gameplan was to out-rebound. I had two things on the game board. On offense: rebound. On defense, rebound. I told them that if they do that, they’ll be playing tomorrow.”
With a seven point lead coming out of the half, the Bulldogs were on fire, but their shot was not as they barely inched by the Eagles late in the 1st. They did lead in the rebound department, though, 18-14. In the third period, the Bulldogs hit three of the first four shots, pushing the margin to double digits, where it stay for a good part of the second half.
“We’ve seen both sides of it,” Sullivan said. “You start making a few shots, and everybody gets to feeling good. They hit four threes in the third quarter alone. That’s a bunch of points in a hurry.”
The Eagles would eventually dwindle the margin down to single digits, but Caden Mills, who had 30 points on the night, fouled out with two minutes left in the contest.
“When Mills fouled out, that was big for us,” Dejarnette explained. “We could now take our best defender and put him on Walker. The whole plan was to make their secondary guys beat us at that point. After Mills went out, we put Blake [Kincaid] in to faceguard Walker to take him out of his rhythm because he had already hit some big ones.”
The Eagles end their season with a 27-8 record in their third consecutive trip to the State Tournament. Columbia Academy survives and advances to play Harriman in the Class A Semifinals.
CA — 16 | 18 | 22 | 22 || 78
VBHS — 23 | 4 | 16 | 26 || 69
CA (78) — Nygil Arms (23), Blake Kincaid (17), Carson Cary (14), William Butterfield (11), Joseph Galbraith (6), Marshall McKee (4), Eli Hyle (7)
VBHS (69) — Caden Mills (30), Bo Walker (15), Jared Binkley (9), Jacob Crain (5), Austin Miller (4), Sawyer Shockley (4), Hunter Evans (2)
CA (32) — Joseph Galbraith (10), Blake Kincaid (5), Marshall McKee (3)
VBHS (20) — Caden Mills (6), Bo Walker (6), Jared Binkley (3)
CA (12) — Carson Cary (4), Blake Kincaid (3), Nygil Arms (2)
VBHS (5) — Bo Walker (2), Caden Mills (1), Several (1)
CA (1) — Nygil Arms (1)
VBHS (7) — Jacob Crain (4), Jared Binkley (3)
CA (4) — Several (1)
VBHS (8) — Austin Miller (2), Jacob Crain (2), Jared Binkley (2)