By: Jim Steele
McKENZIE, Tenn. - With a about 95 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the McKenzie Middle School Rebels basketball team was in pretty good shape. It was up four, 34-30, and had pretty much controlled the tempo.
It's funny how fortune can turn on a dime.
After a missed McKenzie three, Big Sandy's Trey Phifer drove the lane and was fouled. Then the Rebels were assessed a technical foul. Phifer, who had 25 points, was asked to step to the line for four free throws. After Phifer drained all four free throws, he landed a triple with 1:29 in regulation. The Red Devils had gone from four down to three up in a span of seconds.
Sure, McKenzie was able to get the game to overtime, the deal was done.
In the end, Big Sandy captured the Carroll County Middle School championship Saturday, 43-37. Big Sandy, a Benton County school, plays in the Carroll County tournament.
It waS the first time McKenzie had lost a county tournament game in its own gym since it had been playing the county tournament.
Rebel coach Josh Kee was disappointed in the loss.
"I felt like we had it under control; I was feeling pretty good about things and I thought that if we got to 40, we could win it," he said. "I thought we played pretty good defense all game long."
The Rebels did turn in a solid defensive effort and forced 23 turnovers. But McKenzie had a bit of an off outing on offense. Jack Surber, who averages 15 points per game, managed nine. Chase Kelley had six. But things started well. The Rebels and Red Devils were knotted up at 8 after one, but Bransen McCaleb had the hot hand mid way in the second frame with two quick buckets and the Rebels led 16-9. The seven-point margin was McKenzie's largest of the game and McCaleb had nine points.
Big sandy came back to tie the game at 16 and led 18-17 at the break. Big Sandy's Landon French tossed in a big triple to narrow the gap.
McKenzie started the third with an 11-4 run for a 28-22 lead, But Phifer buried a pair of triples to cut the lead to two, 30-28. Josh Pruitt and Chase Kelley scored early in the fourth to give the Rebels a 34-28 advantage when the Rebels fortune changed. Phifer scored 14 of his game-high 25 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined.
Paul Watkins three bomb with under a minute to play knotted the score at 37 going into the the extra frame, but Big Sandy outscored MMS 6-0 in the final three minutes to claim the crown.
Watkins had seven points, Pruitt had three, Chase Norden and Isaiah Townes each had one.
McKenzie placed Surber and Kelley on the all-county team. Phifer and French were all-county Red Devils.