By Mac McLeod,
Good high school coaches will start their seasons off with the toughest opponents they can find, not looking for “wins” but instead getting a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of their own team so when it comes down to the title run late in the season, the team will be prepared for anything thrown at them.
That’s the feelings of both Livingston Academy head coaches Jimmy Miller of the boys and Lesley Riddle of the girls. Neither is afraid to lose, but more interested in assessment. Finding the things that will make their respective teams better in the long run.
Such was the case last week when Livingston traveled to Jackson County for the season openers in the Hall of Fame tournament first round then to Clarkrange on Saturday for the continuation of the event.
Both teams finished the tough two days with one win and two losses, but the information gathered was considerable.
“We knew we were going to be at a disadvantage from the start,” Miller commented after a one-sided 67-47 loss to Jackson County on Friday night. “Three of our starters had only one day of practice with the team since returning from that great football season we just finished. When you take Will (McDonald), Aubrey (Hollars), and Nate (Carwile) with very limited practice and put them on the floor, it’s going to be a little tough.
“We got through that game and I thought we played much better here in Clarkrange despite the fact Will (McDonald) wasn’t here but on a college visit.”
Miller was pretty much right in line. Without McDonald, who will be one of the team’s leading scorers for the remainder of the season, the Wildcats defeated a scrappy Clarkrange team of Buffaloes, 65-59, then returned to the floor some two hours later, extremely worn out, and fought Tullahoma down to the wire before falling by nine, 70-61.
“I’m not only tired, but I’m starving,” LA’s leading scorer Matthew Sells stated after the night’s final game. “We played hard, and for the most part, I think we did pretty good. Remember, when we played Tullahoma, it was their first game of the day and our second. That makes a difference.”
Sells’ comments were echoed throughout the LA dressing room.
“I know I’m worn out,” Hollars said. “It’s been a long day, some of us aren’t in basketball shape, and I’m ready to go home. But this is a good way to get started – play some tough teams early and get in shape. We’ll be okay.”
And junior Hunter Coffman was of the very same opinion, “These games will really help us, but right now, I’m tired and something to eat wouldn’t hurt either.”
The “hungry “ part could have resulted from the fact LA played its first game Saturday at 12:30 and the second at 3:30. There wasn’t much time for food except a hot dog from the concession stand.
“It was a tough week, no doubt,” Miller commented at the end of the day, “but saw a lot of things I’m pleased with. We got some really good play from our younger players, especially Eli Melton, and Parker (Coleman) and Hunter (Coffman) looked good. When we get the team all together, get in shape, and hit our stride, we’ll be okay.”
In Thursday’s season opener at Jackson County, Livingston fell behind 14-13 at the end of the first period, and trailed by seven, 30-23, at the intermission. The Blue Devils opened things up in the third frame as the LA defense simply couldn’t keep up and trailed 53-36 going to the final frame.
Sells led LA in scoring with 19 points and pulled in 9 rebounds. McDonald added 14 points and 3 rebounds, Coleman had 5 points and 2 rebounds, and Coffman had 2 points and 4 rebounds.
In the opener at Clarkrange Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats trailed by two, 13-11, at the end of the first quarter and were behind 26-22 at the intermission. A strong 13-point effort in the third frame tied the game at 35 going to the final quarter. In that quarter, freshman Eli Melton rose to the occasion, making several key baskets and pulling in more than one big defensive rebound to key the team’s first win of the season, 65-59.
In the day’s second contest for the boys, an old foe in former Macon County head coach Jason Welch showed up, now as the top Wildcat at Tullahoma. It was a lot like old times.
When he coached at Macon County, LA and Macon had some thrillers, going to overtime more times than not, and Welch remembered those games.
“They were great games and I will remember them for a long time. Jimmy (Miller) is in a somewhat rebuilding season, but knowing him and the Livingston program, they’ll be tough again this year,” the likeable coach said before the game.
Welch would be right for at least three quarters as the two teams appeared fairly equal. Livingston took a 21-15 lead at the end of the first quarter and were on top 34-30 at the half. Even at the end of the third period, the LA Cats were on top, but only by 2, and in the final eight minutes just ran out of gas.
“That was about all I had left,’Hollars added. “I’m ready to go home.”
Offensively, Sells led all scorers with 30 points. Hollars added 11, Coleman had 6, Carwile, 4 and Ayden Coffee rounded out the scoring with 2.
Livingston will be at Pickett County tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 26, then travel to Cannon County on Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving for the Cannon County Thanksgiving Classic.