BOONVILLE — Despite outscoring the competition in the first half of Thursday’s 1A second round state playoff game, the Starmount boys weren’t able to come out with the win, falling to Hayesville 58-45.
The seventh-seeded Rams were on top at the end of the first quarter, 13-9, and then ended the first half ahead 26-20.
But 10th-seeded Hayesville came into the second half on fire, scoring 21 points in the third quarter to the Rams’ nine points. The Yellowjackets then outscored Starmount 17-10 in the fourth quarter, ending the Rams’ season.
“We played really hard,” said Coach Rocky Horton of Thursday’s game. “Hayesville started pressing and we did a good job beating the press and converting that into baskets. I was pleased with our defensive effort.
“In the second half Hayesville made some tough shots, especially knocking down some 3-pointers,” he said. “For us, the second half the difference was our shot wasn’t falling and Hayesville’s did. They were a tough team ranked No. 12 in the state.”
With a final record of 17-11 overall, 11-3 in conference, Horton said he is proud of his team’s season.
“I’m as proud of this team as any other I’ve coached,” he said. “Last year we graduated six seniors and only three players returned this year with any varsity experience. Our three seniors — Kyler Gregory, Andrew Smythers and Brandon Prescott — did a great job of taking on a leadership role on the court and in practice.
“After overcoming Kyler being sidelined with an ankle for a few weeks early in the season. We started clicking,” Horton said. “But in his absence, other players had to step up and contribute in different ways, which long-term helped our team. We had to mature and grow up quickly.”
The Rams finished the season as regular season conference champions and topped it off with winning the conference tournament for the third consecutive season.
In having just three seniors leading, Horton said, “The bulk of the minutes after that came from a junior, two sophomores and a freshman. So needless to say we were relatively young. We’ll have six guys returning next year, so I really hope they see how hard Andrew, Brandon and Kyler worked in the gym, the weight room and the offseason and how it paid off. If they are willing to work, we look to be very competitive again next year.”
Gregory was named all-conference, player of the year and MVAC tournament MVP. Horton said, “He was our main man and everyone knew it that played us, but he rose to the challenge and played hard, averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds in conference and greatly improved his long-range shooting this year to be such a threat inside as a post player and on the perimeter.”
Other top players for the Rams this year included Prescott, who was an all-conference selection; Smythers, an all-conference selection and MVAC all-tournament team; Griffin Cass, an all-conference honorable mention and all-tournament team selection as a sophomore who Horton is looking to step up more next year; and Houston Nicks, also all-conference honorable mention.
“I’m proud of all nine of my guys and our coaching staff,” Horton said. “The players brought their best effort every day. We never had issues and they were extremely fun to be around all the time.
“Prior to this season, I would imagine most people didn’t think we would accomplish what we did given how many good players graduated from last year. But our motto since I’ve been coaching here has been ‘all in’ and they bought into that and did it daily,” he said. “Towards the end of the season we adopted the saying ‘win the day’ with the approach of one game at a time as we worked towards winning conference.”
The coach said the players gave it their best effort every day when it was expected. “As a coach that’s all I can ask for,” said Horton. “The good part is their best effort and execution allowed them to win some really great ball games.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.