LOG MOUNTAIN —For the first time in school history the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets are headed to the Touchstone Energy All “A” Classic state tournament.
The Jackets punched their ticket to Frankfort Sunday afternoon when they outscored Pineville 19-4 over the final four minutes to pull out a 67-57 win in the 13th Region All “A” championship game at Bell County High School.
“It’s just great for our school and our community because our kids are becoming winners and learning how to set their focus on something and come together to accomplish it. That says something about their character and I’m really proud of them,” MHS coach Russell Thompson said.
They didn’t give out a tournament most valuable player award, but if they did it almost certainly would have gone to Middlesboro’s Donnie Foister. The junior guard scored 14 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter and his speed with the ball allows the Jackets to get into fast-break mode after made baskets as well as in transition.
“Donnie’s got a motor where he just doesn’t quit. He’s going to run the entire game and when he starts putting the ball in the hole he’s pretty special to watch and it’s exciting,” Thompson said. “He’s fun to coach and our kids like playing with him. He’s a good leader for our team.”
Senior guard Blake Davis scored ten of his eleven points in the final period and made several clutch plays down the stretch, including a 3-pointer that gave the Jackets the lead for good with 3:01 to play. Zack Riddle and Austin Poindexter finished with nine points each and Derek Smith added eight for Middlesboro.
Pineville was led by senior center John Simpson’s 17 points while senior guard Seth Jeffrey finished with 16, Jared Philpot added 13 and Byron David Asher seven.
The Jackets stormed out to a 6-0 lead after a 3 from Foister less than two minutes into the game. Pineville soon closed the gap to two and Philpot scored nine of his points in the first period as the Mountain Lions trailed just 13-11 after one. Neither team would lead by more than five the rest of the way until Middlesboro pulled away over the final minute-plus.
Simpson scored seven of his points in the second period, including a basket off an offensive rebound with 2:35 to play in the half that tied the game at 24. Middlesboro got one free throw from Smith and a tip in from Poindexter before Jeffrey hit a layup to bring the Lions within 27-26 at the half.
“Everyone at Pineville knows what respect I have for those kids, that school and their coaching staff and I knew coming in we’d have to be at our best,” Thompson added. “They really controlled the tempo for three quarters and we were able to get into more of our type of game in the fourth. Pineville has a great bunch and we’ve all got more to look forward to with the district tournaments.”
A free throw from Simpson tied the game early in the third quarter, then Smith and Asher traded baskets. Finally one free throw from Cody Collett and two from Jeffrey at the 5:33 mark gave the Lions their first lead of the game at 33-32.
Two free throws by Poindexter put the Jackets back on top, 34-33 midway through the quarter. But the Lions were already in the bonus and they hit five of six free throws over the next minute to take a 38-34 lead. Riddle converted a three-point play and the game went back and forth the rest of the period. Simpson’s basket off a nice feed from Asher gave Pineville a 42-41 lead going into the fourth.
“With the environment I do think we were a little bit anxious and a little high-energy. We committed some silly fouls but I told them this was a great place to be on a Sunday afternoon, playing for a championship. They’ve earned that right and they just needed to go out, enjoy the moment and seize the day. They absolutely did that. They’re great kids and I’ve been blessed to work with them,” Thompson said.
The game was tied on two occasions early in the fourth quarter, then Jeffrey found Simpson cutting to the basket for an easy two and a 49-47 Pineville lead with 5:05 to play. Foister hit one free throw, then Asher finished at the rim after the Lions beat Middlesboro’s press. Two free throws from Collett gave Pineville their biggest led of the game at 53-48 with 4:07 remaining.
“I told them it was time to step up and find out how bad you really want to bring the first Class A 13th Region title home to Middlesboro and my guys did that. They stepped up across the board,” said Thompson.
Foister converted a three-point play and Davis came away with a steal — he saved a deflected ball and called a timeout before going out of bounds. On the following possession Davis drained a 3-pointer from the left elbow right in front of the Jacket bench and Middlesboro led 54-53 with 3:01 to play.
Another steal from Davis led to a Foister layup, but the Jackets weren’t out of the woods yet.
Jeffrey was fouled in the backcourt — it was MHS senior point guard Michael Wilson’s fifth — and hit both free throws to make it a one-point game. Jeffrey hit all twelve of his free throws attempts in the game and added two more with 2:21 left to bring the Lions within 58-57.
While Middlesboro’s press didn’t force the Lions into any more turnovers, it succeeded in forcing Pineville to push the pace. Two free throws from Davis put the Jackets back up by three, then a layup from Jeffrey rolled out off the back iron and Riddle came away with the rebound. Davis drove the baseline for two and suddenly the Jackets were up 62-57 with 1:50 remaining.
The Lions were off the mark on a pair of 3-point attempts and Davis rebounded the second one, was fouled and hit both free throws to pretty well put the game out of reach with 1:11 to go.
“Blake Davis did a tremendous job of putting us on his back. To tell you the truth, they’ve not got enough all-tournament trophies there. I felt like he was well-deserving of that opportunity because Blake’s passion in the fourth quarter was just enough to carry us over the hump when we were struggling,” Thompson said. “He wasn’t able to knock down shots early, but we kept believing in him and trusting him. He led us in the fourth quarter and I just can’t give enough credit to him for his leadership. I had been challenging him all game and he stepped up and really carried us. He was big for us.”
Pineville would miss on a few more threes down the stretch and Middlesboro went on to the ten-point win.
Mountain Lions Seth Jeffrey, Byron David Asher, Jared Philpot and John Simpson were named to the all-tournament team while Middlesboro was represented by Austin Poindexter, Donnie Foister, Michael Wilson, Zack Riddle and Boone Bowling.
Pineville (12-7) will be back in action on Tuesday at home against Perry County Central. Middlesboro (12-7) heads to Frankfort for the All “A” state tournament. Their first round game will be at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday against 8th Region champ Owen County.
“We’ve taken it one game at a time and I didn’t want to look ahead — I’m superstitious like that,” said Thompson. “We’ll try to scout them a little bit and see what we can learn. We’re going to try to put together a good week of practice and then we’ll go and represent the 13th Region as best we can.”
— — —
Middlesboro…13…14…14…26 — 67
Pineville……….11…15…16…15 — 57
MIDDLESBORO (67): Donnie Foister 26, Blake Davis 11, Zack Riddle 9, Austin Poindexter 9, Derek Smith 8, Michael Wilson 2, Boone Bowling 2.
PINEVILLE (57): John Simpson 17, Seth Jeffrey 16, Jared Philpot 13, Byron David Asher 7, Cody Collett 4, Connor Ford 0, Jacob Skinner 0, Dalton Ledbetter 0, Isaac Longworth 0.