With all their starters back in the lineup, the Jellico High School boys were again the toast of the town Friday night.
An overflow crowd cheered on wildly, as the host Blue Devils trounced defending champion Hancock County, 73-54, to take sole possession of first place in the District 2-A basketball race.
Forwards Jesse Chambers and Thomas Ridenour led five Jellico scorers in double figures with 13 points each. Ben Mitchell chipped in 11, followed by Darius Marlow and Matt Ayers with 10 each, and Jeremiah Thompson nine.
The Blue Devils improved their record to 7-1 in district play and 16-6 overall. Their lone league loss was to Cosby, a team they will host tomorrow (Friday) night for a chance to wrap up the district regular season title.
Jellico lost two games — including the district setback at Cosby — with five of its top 10 players serving a six-game suspension for playing in a non-sanctioned 3-on-3 benefit tournament. Coupled with the mysterious season-long suspension of head coach Alvin Evans, the Blue Devils have had a lot to deal with this year.
“Hopefully we’ll be a better team for having gone through it,” said assistant coach Mike Reynolds, who has filled in admirably in the absence of Evans.
“We’ve played with a lot of determination and heart.”
Jellico was coming off a 73-46 victory the previous night against Berean Christian.
Thompson gunned in 20 points and a trio of treys in the final game without the suspended players. Jerry Walker scored 15 points and hit a pair of three-pointers for the Blue Devils.
Two nights earlier, Jellico was beaten 55-52 by The King’s Academy Lions on a last-second three-pointer. Ironically, it was the Lions that the Blue Devils defeated by a single point, 42-41, in their first game after the suspensions were handed down.
Jellico’s girls had better luck against The King’s Academy. Noel Tiller scored a career-high 19 points and made five 3-pointers to lead the Lady Blue Devils to a 43-29 victory over the Lady Lions.
Kayla Bolton contributed 11 points and a trio of treys to Jellico’s cause, followed by Ashley Gulley with six points, Mikayla Marlow four, Ariel King and Amber Barton one.
The Lady Blue Devils also picked up a 40-29 district win at Clinch on Jan. 23.
Bolton led the scoring with 12 points, followed by Tiller with 10, Barton nine, Gulley four, Marlow and Ashley Ouimette two each, and King one. Bolton and Tiller each hit a pair of three-pointers.
Bolton scored 15 points last Thursday night during a 61-50 loss to Berean Christian and had 13 the following night during a 63-36 loss to Hancock County. The Lady Blue Devils, currently 2-6 in District 2-A, took a 4-16 overall record into Tuesday night’s game at Oneida.
“We’re playing the best basketball we’ve played all year,” said Jellico coach Harold Sanders.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re executing a lot better. It doesn’t always show in the win column, but we’ve improved by leaps and bounds from the first of the year.”