(WJHL) – Both the Blue Devils and Falcons departed home on Monday morning, headed for Murfreesboro and the TSSAA Class 3A boy’s state basketball tournament.
The halls were relatively empty in Erwin with school out at the start of this week. However, the boy’s basketball team still climbed aboard a bus, receiving support from a handful of fans in the parking lot, as well as downtown.
Unicoi County compiled a record of 28-8 up to this point of the season, running straight through the sectional to earn its first state tournament berth in 37 seasons.
The wins in recent weeks have fueled the student body and the community with excitement, but coaches and players believe this run has been building long before the district tournament.
“It’s definitely been more than this week – I mean, we were talking about this in the summer,” Blue Devils senior Lucas Slagle said. “We knew it was coming, we knew we had a good shot to do it – and we’re going to go do it. To have the town and community behind us is just even bigger.”
“I want them to be excited,” Unicoi County head coach Jordan Simmons smiled. “In the end, it’s a business trip for us, but they understand the significance of what they’ve done and they understand the importance of it. Not just to this team, but to all those 37 years of teams that have come before them.”
The Blue Devils will face Haywood (28-5) in the 3A quarterfinals on Tuesday. Tip-off is slated for 3:45 p.m. EST.
In Church Hill, with school in session, the gymnasium was packed to see off the first-ever state tournament team in Volunteer history. The event was complete with player introductions and a pep band flourish,
The Falcons have played Cinderella in Northeast Tennessee over the last few weeks, winning six of their seven playoff games en route to the final eight.
The team’s only loss during the run came to Unicoi County in the Region1-3A title game. But, Coach Zach Crawford’s squad rebounded with a 24-point sectional win at Knoxville Halls last week to punch their ticket.
Crawford says this team is peaking at the right time, thanks to the experience provided by a strong senior class – and earned through a tricky schedule.
“The first half of the year we scheduled some tough opponents to get us ready for these kind of moments and now I think we’re seeing it really pay off,” Crawford said.
“Five seniors and a junior – we’re all playing like it’s our last year, because it is,” Volunteer senior Joltin Harrison said. “It’s our last year playing basketball in high school and we wanted it last year, too. We had a bunch of friends that were seniors last year. But, this year we got it done and it’s just a blessing to be able to do it with four other seniors.”
A tough matchup awaits in the 3A quarterfinals against top-ranked Fulton. The game is set for 11 a.m. EST on Tuesday.