Bulldogs beat Lions to secure region tournament berth
There was a time during the past decade the Cornersville basketball team reached unprecedented heights by advancing to three straight region tournaments (2007-09) and even reached the second round in 2008 before bowing out to Moore County.
Since then the Bulldogs (8-15) have experienced hard times, including a winless season in 09-10 and a one win campaign last season, but have bounced back under first-year coach Matt Hagan and came into the district tournament opener on Tuesday night against Grace Christian (7-19) with a chance to advance to the Region 6A Tournament for the first time in eight years.
And despite taking a 20-point beating at the hands of the Lions just 11 days prior and taking the court without leading scorer Tyler Wolaver (flu) the Bulldogs played perhaps its most complete game of the season and survived 81-62 to advance to a matchup with top-seeded Richland on Friday.
"We wanted it more," point guard Henlee Mitchell said. "Coach Hagan put it in our head that the winning team would be the team who wanted it more. And tonight we came out and played our best game maybe all season and that's why we'll be playing in the regions next week."
With the win the Bulldogs hit the eight win mark for just the second time since 2009 and have more than doubled the amount of wins of the past two seasons combined.
"Going 1-22 last season was pretty bad," Mitchell, who finished with nine points and three assists, added. "Coming into the season not one person in the state thought that we would advance to the region and possibly play for a district championship so getting this win especially for our seniors is pretty nice."
The seniors turned in huge games for the Bulldogs with Michael Allen turning in a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Austin Ridinger turned in a huge performance with a team-high 16 points to go with seven rebounds.
The bench came up big for Cornersville as Kolbe McMahon added 14 points, four rebounds, three steals, two steals and Eli Woodard chipped in 10 points and three steals.
"We prepared a lot better this week," McMahon stated. "We've been working hard in practice and trying to compete hard with each other. But we still have to worker harder.
Devin Baus added six points and eight rebounds while Marques Martin contributed two points, four assists, and three rebounds.
Cam Whitaker added seven points and four rebounds.
"The role players were huge," CHS coach Matt Hagan noted. "McMahon came in and played well. Tyler got the flu and didn't play at all but we had guys step up. Marques stepped up, Devin played well. I'm probably missing someone but it was just a team effort. This was an awesome, great win for us."
The two teams went back-and-forth during the first quarter as Ridinger scored the first four points but a Mason McKnott triple gave the Lions a 6-4 lead at the 4:54 mark.
Allen tied the game at 6 on a runner in the lane and Ridinger added a layup on an offensive rebound but Trey Burchfield completed a three-point play for a 9-8 Lion advantage.
The Bulldogs would take its biggest lead of the game with the first quarter winding down before Mitchell scored on a wild scoop shot with 24 seconds remaining.
The Lions reclaimed the lead on another McKnott triple two minutes into the second quarter, but the Bulldogs started to distance itself on an Allen free throw and a Baus rebound and layup for a 28-25 lead.
McMahon scored on two straight possessions to give the Bulldogs a 34-25 lead with 2:31 remaining in first half and after a Burchfield layup, the maroon and white went into the locker room with a 37-33 lead.
The second half belonged to the Bulldogs as a Woodard 3-pointer expanded the lead to 49-40 and Martin pushed the lead to double figures at 51-40 on an offensive rebound and put-back.
The Bulldogs saved their best for last as the Marshall County squad scored 24 points in the final period behind nine Allen points and four each from McMahon and Whitaker to end the night with a convincing 19-point win.
The Bulldogs face district juggernaut Richland (23-2) at Mount Pleasant on Friday night with a chance to play for a District 11A championship.
"We're gonna have to take care of the ball," Hagan said. "We're going to have to stay in the game and not get fatigued. And guys are going to have to step up off the bench."
"I can't depend on five guys because (Richland) is 9-10 deep and running at you the entire time," Hagan continued. "It's a pressure situation the whole game so we're going to have to take care of the ball and make some plays."
Cornersville 14 23 20 24-81
Grace Christian 9 24 11 18-62
Cornersville (81): Austin Ridinger 16, Michael Allen 14, Kolbe McMahon 14, Eli Woodard 10, Henlee Mitchell 9, Cam Whitaker 7, Devin Baus 6, Marques Martin 2, Tanner Reese 2, Ryan Prosser 1
3-point goals (3): Mitchell, Woodard, McMahon
Grace Christian (62): Mason McKnott 24, Austin Kosick 10, Jayce Brown 8, Grant Solomon 8, Trey Burchfield 5, Gavin Johnson 3, Cole Scott 2, Jake Boesinger 2
3-point goals (9): McKnott 4, Kosick 2, Solomon 2, Brown
Halftime score: Cornersville 37, Grace Christian 33