Longtime Jellico High basketball fans can scarcely recall the last time their boy’s team won a district regular season title.
The school’s first and only tournament championship team was easy enough to remember. The 1991-92 Blue Devils captured a District 2-A crown and fell one game short of reaching the state tournament.
But, until Friday night, when Jellico rallied for a 67-61 victory over Cosby, the Blue Devils hadn’t won a regular season championship since 1951.
Forward Jesse Chambers and center Matt Ayers provided a potent one-two punch in the paint for Jellico during the triumph over the Eagles. Chambers led the scoring with 17 points while Ayers had 16 points and seven rebounds.
“We’ve got the number one seed (in the tournament); that’s the main thing,” said Blue Devils coach Mike Reynolds.
“We didn’t always play perfect, but we played hard and showed a lot of guts.”
Jellico held a 28-27 advantage at halftime but lost its lead late in the third quarter. Ayers, a 6-foot-4 junior center, scored half of his points during the final eight minutes to keep the Blue Devils in the game.
“Matt is an athlete,” said Reynolds.
“He doesn’t know how good he could be. At halftime, we had a little heart-to-heart (talk) about not getting too far away from the basket.”
Point guard Jeremiah Thompson put Jellico in front for good, 49-48, midway through the fourth quarter. Then the Blue Devils went on a 10-0 run to take a nine-point lead, 57-48, with 3:22 left.
“Cosby is well coached, but we outrebounded them. Matt and Jesse hit the boards hard,” said Reynolds.
Thompson finished with 12 points and five assists. Also contributing to Jellico’s victory was Ben Mitchell with nine points, Thomas Ridenour with seven points and seven rebounds, Darius Marlow with four points and seven assists, and Dustin Smiddy with two points.
Last year, Jellico finished a distant third behind Hancock County and Cosby during the regular season. The Blue Devils lost five league games a year ago but only one this season. They avenged that defeat Friday night against Cosby.
Jellico (8-1 district, 17-6 overall) has already surpassed its win total from last year by three games.
Trenton Dunn scored 12 of his team-high 17 points in the second half for the Eagles. Jonathan Manning chipped in 16 points and a trio of treys — all in the last three quarters — for Cosby (6-3 district, 13-9 overall).
The girl’s game wasn’t much of a contest. Cosby won, 60-17, with Whitney Hartsell scoring 14 points and Brittany Frisbee 10.
Noel Tiller paced Jellico with five points, followed by Amber Barton with four; Kayla Bolton, Karli Creekmore and Ariel King two each