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PLEASANT GROVE - A late rally made it close, but the Eastside Eagles won the school’s first Middle School ‘A’ Division Basketball Championship on Friday with a 45-41 victory over Zoneton.
The victory completed a sweep for the eighth-graders at Eastside as they won the title each of their three seasons as teammates, taking the two previous ‘B’ titles before securing the ‘A’ title this season.
Eastside finished the season with an 18-4 mark.
For the 12th straight season, the tournament was sponsored by Arch L. Heady and Son Dignity Memorial. That organization presented the traveling trophy to the winning team as well as medals to each of the participating players.
Eastside was up 31-19 early in the third quarter and 37-26 early in the final frame and seemed headed to an easy victory. But Zoneton had other plans. Despite the fact that the Timberwolves had played five overtimes the night before in the tournament semi-finals (beating Mount Washington), they dug down deep and came up with a late surge.
The Eagles’ Evan Reister had opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer that put Eastside on top 37-26. Zoneton’s rally started with a three-pointer by Travis Downing and baskets by Downing and Daniel Griffin pulled the Timberwolves within 38-33.
Eastside was having trouble at the foul line and that kept the door open for Zoneton. Tyler Cowgell, who had scored 33 points the night before in the marathon win over Mount Washington, scored six straight points for his team. The final two in that surge came with 1:37 remaining and pulled Zoneton within 42-39.
Rusty Troutman, who scored all nine of his points at the foul line, then hit two free throws, but Zoneton’s Devin Hanson answered at the charity stripe to make it 44-41 with 1:15 to play. But, that was as close as the Timberwolves could get. Troutman blocked a shot at the other end and Derek Jones hit one free throw. Jones missed two free throws, but Zoneton could not convert at the other end before the buzzer sounded.
Eastside, a team that had beaten Zoneton twice in the regular season by a combined 28 points, lost just once this season within Bullitt County and that was to Mount Washington.
“I’ll tell you, this group has won every number one seed and every championship through middle school,” said Eastside head coach Josh Meredith. “Plus, they never lost a county game on this floor (at Eastside).”
Zoneton and Eastside had played just ten days earlier and the Eagles had won 39-29.
Meredith had no dreams that Zoneton would be flat after the five overtime game the night before.
“It’s the tournament so everybody will play their best ball,” the coach said. “When you are the number one seed, everybody plays harder against you.”
Meredith, who won his first title in this, his third year as the Eastside head coach, wasn’t too worried when Zoneton cut into the lead late.
“The kids have been here before and they always battle back,” he said.
For Zoneton it was a tough loss to end a great final week to the season.
It was the win that Eastside expected, but maybe not quite the performance they wanted.
“We have some guys who normally hit shots and they didn’t tonight,” Meredith noted. “Then tonight we had some other guys step up and make shots. If we had hit some of our lay-ups it might have been different.”
The entire tournament was thrown into disarray because of the bad weather that canceled classes in Bullitt County on Tuesday. Zoneton practiced on Friday to play on Monday, but then the games were canceled that night and again on Tuesday.
It wasn’t until the middle of the day on Wednesday that they found out that they would play that night in the quarter-finals of the six-team event. That forced the semi-finals to Thursday and the final on Friday.
“We played Wednesday and were down one at halftime of that game,” said Bannon. “We win that one and then play a five overtime game the next night. We beat the number two seed who hadn’t played the night before and then have to play the number one seed on their own floor and that had been able to rest some guys because they had a big lead.
“I couldn’t ask for anything else from my boys,” the veteran coach said.
Zoneton had only been 5-5 during the regular season against the other Bullitt County teams and finished just 11-8 overall.
Like most Bullitt County teams, Bannon doesn’t really get most of her players full-time until after the season has already started because they are still playing in the Greater Bullitt County Youth Football League.
“This group took a little while to come around,” Bannon pointed out. “90 percent of the this group are football players. That makes it tough you have to split practices. The Maryville Patriots were in the championship game and then there were All-Stars after that. It takes some time to get rolling and going.
“On the flip side, they came around when it counted,” the coach added. “For any coach that is what you look for, improvement through the season.”
Zoneton, which only had one player return who played a lot for the ‘A’ team last year, got 11 points each from eighth-graders Tyler Cowgell and Daniel Griffin.
Eastside was led by Derek Jones with 11 points and the Eagles also got ten points from Chris Embry.
Bullitt County Middle School Basketball Tourney
At Eastside MS
ZONETON MS 41 (7-10-9-15) Tyler Cowgell 11, Travis Downing 7, Devin Hanson 8, Patrick Egnor 2, Daniel Griffin 11, Nate Sanders, Clayton Kelly, Jon Davis, Chris Burke, Dakota Schlenk, Brandon Devore, Josh Exton, Mark Hill and Dylan Sheehan.
EASTSIDE MS 45 (12-14-8-11) Rusty Troutman 9, Chris Embry 10, Evan Reister 5, Derek Jones 11, Anthony Hall 4, Jacob Woodruff 8, Hunter Wood, Gage Logsdon, Alex Richardson, Jesse Porter and Scotty McIntyre.