|Middleton looking for right gear to keep up with UC
|Larry Smalley says his Middleton team “normally plays pretty fast.”
The coach’s interpretation of “pretty fast” and the gear the Tigers will have to have to keep up with Union City, however, might be entirely different.
Nonetheless, a furious pace seems to be in order for tonight when Middleton and the top-ranked Tornadoes hook up in an expected run-and-gun showdown in a Class 1A boys’ sectional matchup.
At stake is a berth in the state tournament March 12-15 in Murfreesboro — a venue familiar to both programs.
Unbeaten Union City (33-0) — the only such team in any classification left in Tennessee — is seeking the school’s fifth state championship (three 2A, one 1A), while Middleton (20-11) has won three Class A championships in its history.
Both teams are common sectional or substate participants, too, UC having made 15 previous appearances in what is essentially the “Sweet 16,” while Middleton has made it this far six straight years and 10 times in Smalley’s 23-season tenure.
The two met at the same postseason juncture two years ago, but on the Tigers’ hardwood, with the Tornadoes getting a buzzer-beating shot by eventual Mr. Basketball winner Marquis Weddle in a thrilling 47-46 victory that propelled them to the last of their aforementioned state championships.
Tonight’s pairing could resemble a track meet if both teams hold to their season-long form and desired styles.
UC’s frenzied end-to-end defensive pressure that feeds a prolific transition game has translated to an average of 83 points per game. The Tornadoes have been even more explosive in the postseason, hitting for 90.6 ppg in six contests.
Middleton’s definition of “playing pretty fast” has produced point-averages considerably lower than Union City’s. His team, though, will admittedly push the ball upcourt at every opportunity and isn’t shy about hoisting up 3-point shots, according to Tornado head coach Shane Sisco.
“They’ll shoot it from anywhere and are a lot like us from that standpoint,” Sisco said after watching the Tigers in person in the postseason. “They really like to get it out and go in transition, and they’ve got a couple of players in (Jammie) Cheairs and (Tabias) Murden who are athletic and good finishers.”
Smalley qualified his statement about “playing fast” by saying he knows when to put on the brakes.
“When I say we normally play pretty fast, I’m well-aware that there are other teams who like to play faster than we do,” he explained. “We’ve had to make some adjustments in how we want to play, because there’s fast, and there’s too fast for us.”
Cheairs and Murden are indeed the two who make Middleton go, confirmed Smalley. Both are 6-3 seniors, with the former averaging 19.2 points and six rebounds per-game and the latter 14 points and 6.5 boards per-outing.
Like UC, the Tigers are not necessarily blessed with size inside. Freshman Derrick Hudson (6-3) does reportedly have a world of potential, however, and has averaged six points and seven rebounds as a starter in the middle.
“We’ll play about eight people and, after Cheairs and Murden, there’s not a lot of difference between some of the others,” Smalley added.
A tough schedule that has seen Middleton lose four times to heralded fourth-ranked Manassas owhile also playing games against perennially talented and tough 2A foes Bolivar and Fayette Ware will keep the Tigers from being overwhelmed by the Twisters — so say both coaches.
“Our quickness and athleticism won’t be anything they haven’t seen,” Sisco claimed.
“We play a pretty tough schedule, probably too tough a one for the team we have this year,” the Middleton skipper said. “We’ve struggled a little bit against the more talented teams like Manassas, and we’ve had our confidence shaken some in our games against them.”
The home game will be the last for seven Union City seniors, led by Mr. Basketball finalist MJ Brown, high-flying Tony Wilkins, steady Lavan Mosley and Andre Coby.
Sisco is counting on a proper sendoff for that bunch from an expected overflow of Tornado fans and is hopeful to reduce the magic number to the ultimate perfect season to three.
“It’ll be a great honor for those seven seniors to play in front of our people on their homecourt one last time,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard, both this year and during their careers. They’ve given every ounce of energy they have almost every night out, and I think our fans have appreciated that effort.
“I’m hopeful that translates into a great homecourt advantage for us.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.