Twenty years after their only sub-state appearance, Jellico High School’s boys found themselves one win away Monday night from qualifying for the state basketball tournament.
Playing on their home court before a record crowd (1,076-plus), the Region 2-A champion Blue Devils attempted to extend their 9-game winning streak against Region 1-A runner-up Cloudland.
However, the Highlanders’ pedal-to-the-metal attack proved to be too much for the Blue Devils. Cloudland (26-7 overall) spoiled Jellico’s party with a 69-53 upset victory to punch its own ticket to the state tournament. The Blue Devils ended their season with a 21-13 overall record.
“We knew they were quick,” said Jellico coach Mike Reynolds.
“They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect them to. We just didn’t play well. I just didn’t coach our boys like I should have.”
Cloudland took the Blue Devils’ post players out of the game in the first quarter.
Jellico forward Cody Malicoat, the MVP of the District 4-A and Region 2-A tournaments, went to the bench with three early fouls and failed to score a single point during the first half.
Malicoat finished with 13 points.
“He didn’t get a shot up in the first half,” said Reynolds.
Using their pressure defense to create numerous turnovers, the Highlanders bolted to a 17-7 start. By the end of the opening quarter, they had doubled the score, 24-12, on Jellico. The Blue Devils fell behind even further in the second quarter and trailed by 17 points, 37-20, at intermission.
Meanwhile, Cloudland senior forward Matthew Potter had 18 points by halftime, including 10 points during the first quarter and a pair of 3-pointers and a field goal in the second period.
Potter finished the night with 35 points, including a 12-point blitz during the final eight minutes.
“We didn’t defend well,” Reynolds said afterward.
The Highlanders were able to maintain a 20-point lead throughout much of the second half. Jellico got within 13 points, 60-47, with 2:54 left in the fourth quarter, but that’s as close as it would get.
Senior point guard Lee England scored eight points during the final period in a valiant comeback attempt for the Blue Devils.
Brent Ayers led the Blue Devils with 19 points, followed by Malicoat with 13, Lee England 10, Michael Smith 5, Gabe Mitchell 4 and Dustin Smiddy 2.
Malicoat will return next season, but Jellico will graduate 8 battle-tested seniors.
“I’m very proud of our boys,” said Reynolds.
“They’ve done a lot for Jellico High School basketball, especially the seniors.”