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Red Bay Boys Varsity Basketball Wins 2019 County tournament
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Saturday, January 26, 2019
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Weatherford leads Red Bay boys to first county title in six years  by Mike Self


PHIL CAMPBELL - When Red Bay senior Colton Corum saw teammate and friend Gath Weatherford go down with a knee injury in a January 8 game against Winston County, he could think of only one thing to do.

“I’m gonna tell you,” Corum said, “the first thing I did was I got down and prayed.”

While Corum was interceding on Weatherford’s behalf, head coach John Torisky was having some very unpleasant flashbacks.

“I was in shock and disgust,” Torisky said, “thinking, ‘Where is this gonna go?’ I remember when I was helping Coach [Donnie] Roberts [with Red Bay’s varsity girls] one year, we were playing Belmont, I think, and Alana Hester, one of our top players, tore her ACL in like the last game of the year when we were winning by twenty. And it hurt us that year. So I was just thinking, ‘Please don’t let it be serious.”

The concern expressed by Corum and Torisky and shared by all of Red Bay Nation was well founded. The Tigers pride themselves on depth and balance, on selflessness, on ‘we before me,’ but Weatherford—the team’s top scorer and most prolific perimeter shooter—is undoubtedly their most indispensable player.

“We couldn’t afford to lose him,” Corum said.

As it turns out, they didn’t. Weatherford, who has dealt with left knee trouble in the past, says he knew pretty quickly that he had dodged the proverbial bullet.

“I had this injury before,” he said. “It’s a re-injury is what it was. It’s a sprained MCL. My first thought was, I was scared, of course, but once I got up on my feet and started walking, I knew it wasn’t gonna be as bad as the first time.”

Weatherford missed the next game at Addison [the Tigers were able to grind out a 54-43 win over a Bulldog team they had beaten by 53 with Weatherford healthy on December 15] and then returned to limited action on January 14 against Hatton. The 6’3, 210-pound forward was full-go for the Franklin County Tournament, and on Saturday night he delivered a championship-game performance for the ages.

Weatherford buried a season-high seven threes and scored 24 points, helping Red Bay claim its first county title since 2013 with a 61-42 win over rival Belgreen.

After watching Weatherford top the 20-point mark for the seventh time this season and the 18th time since the start of last season, Torisky couldn’t suppress a smile.

“He seems to be doing okay,” the coach said with a laugh.

Corum concurred.

“I’m glad everything worked out and he was alright,” the senior guard said. “I’m glad he’s back, and he’s playing very well. I don’t know what kind of zone he was in tonight, but he was unbelievable.”

On a night when the Tigers (19-4 and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A by the ASWA) smothered Belgreen (12-9) with their trademark brand of relentless, physical defense, Weatherford provided most of the offensive punch. [Sophomore Braden Ray, another 6’3 forward, chipped in as well, scoring 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the floor.]

Weatherford opened the game with a three—his 50th of the season—on Red Bay’s first possession and then closed out the first quarter with another make from beyond the arc to give the Tigers an early 10-6 lead. By that time, he already had a feeling about how things were going to go.

“When that first shot went in,” he said, “I was like, ‘This is gonna be a good night.’”

Weatherford poured in nine second-quarter points, drilling a three from the left wing in the final seconds of the half to cap off a 14-0 run and send the Tigers into the locker room with a 25-13 advantage. He nailed two more threes in the third quarter and then knocked down number seven with a little more than three minutes left in the game. He checked out for good moments later, leaving the floor as a county champion for the first time in his four-year varsity career.

“It’s been something that was a long time coming,” said Torisky, now in his fourth season as head coach. “He works so hard. These guys haven’t had a chance to win this. Tonight, he wanted it. In the first quarter, he came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I got this tonight.’ I knew he was in the zone and ready to go.

“He’s played good for us the last three years, but tonight he really showed out. I’m really happy for him.”

Red Bay is now 5-2 this season when Weatherford scores 20-plus, but the Tigers are by no means a one-man show; thanks to a rotation that legitimately goes ten-deep, they’re 10-1 in games where Weatherford has scored in single-digits.

“We find the hot hand,” said Weatherford, who averages a team-best 12.7 points per game. “We find the man who’s scoring and we go for it. You can stop me, and if you leave him [here he points in Corum’s direction] open, so be it. We’re happy for you to leave him open and double-team me or take two of our guys out, because we have eight more. We have ten players who can score.”

Their two games at the county tournament were a microcosm of the Tigers’ season as a whole. In Thursday’s semifinal, all ten of Torisky’s players scored, but none of them reached double-figures in a 50-26 win over Tharptown. On Saturday night, Weatherford went off for 24, and Ray and Corum—who had a pair of three-point plays in the third quarter and wound up scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second half—combined for 27 more.

The common thread in both wins, of course, was defense. After hounding the Wildcats into 26 turnovers on Thursday night, Red Bay held Belgreen to just 32 percent (12-for-38) shooting from the field on Saturday. Leading by two at 13-11 after a pair of free throws by sophomore Isac Willingham early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs went scoreless for the final six minutes of the first half.

During their current seven-game win streak, the Tigers are holding opponents to an average of just 35.3 points.

“It starts in practice,” Corum said. “We do a lot of defensive drills and shell drills. One good thing about our team, when we’re guarding shells in practice, the guy we’re guarding is gonna be better than the guy we’re guarding in the game, more than likely.

“Since we’ve been back from Christmas break, we’ve played really good defensively. We’re holding teams to like 34 or 35 points. We haven’t played that well offensively, but we held Belgreen to 42. They’re a team that can score 70 or 80. We’re just tenacious on D.”

The Bulldogs boast the highest-scoring trio in Franklin County, with senior big man Mason Bragwell (18.4 points per game), senior guard Brant Bragwell (16.2) and sophomore guard Scout Bragwell (12.2) combining to average nearly 47 points per game heading into the county final. Those three combined to shoot just 5-for-23 from the field on Saturday and totaled 20 points (half of which came from Mason Bragwell in the fourth quarter).

“Our boys came out focused and really executed the game plan,” Torisky said. “We talked about taking those big three for them and trying to take them away from what they do. Mason was a handful tonight, but we slowed down Brant and Scout. Taking two of those three away really forced them to look for points elsewhere. We wanted to make someone else beat us.”

With his quick feet, quicker hands and relentless energy, junior point guard Clay Allison sets the tone defensively for Red Bay. Allison attempted only four shots on Saturday, making two, but he finished with six steals and was personally responsible for forcing a large chunk of Belgreen’s 17 turnovers.

“Him and Hunter [Bays, a senior guard] do a great job with their on-ball defense,” Torisky said. “When they’re guarding the ball and keeping it in front of them, it allows us to be aggressive and over-play the passing lanes and things like that. Those two really get after it.

“Clay has a non-stop motor. He’s got another level he goes to. His engine runs so hard. He’s one of the few guys who can really impact the game on the defensive end alone. He didn’t have the best offensive game tonight, but he was getting his hands on everything and really getting them out of their rhythm. It’s amazing what he can do.”

Leading by 12 at the break, the Tigers opened the second half with a three-point play by Corum and a three by Weatherford, extending their run to 20-0 and opening up a 31-13 lead. Belgreen battled back to within 14 at 35-21 on a three by Willingham, but Red Bay responded with a quick 8-0 spurt (one that included back-to-back threes by Weatherford and Ray) to go up by 22 and seal the deal.

This county championship was especially sweet for the team’s four seniors (Weatherford, Corum, Bays and reserve guard Noah Brewer), who were freshmen when Torisky took over and began the rebuilding job that would take the Tigers from 2-24 in his second season to where they are now—on the verge of 20 wins, sitting atop the state rankings and reigning supreme over Franklin County for the first time in six years.

“I’m speechless,” Corum said on Saturday night. “Four years ago, when Coach got here, us four seniors started the foundation, you know. Those first two years were rough, but it’s paying off now. I’m very glad we showed up and played very well tonight.”

The Tigers, who made their first regional appearance last season since 1995 and are well positioned to make an even deeper postseason run this year, clearly have bigger goals in mind for next month. But, make no mistake, bringing the county championship back to Red Bay was prominent on the to-do list.

“Certainly,” Weatherford said. “This is just a building block. It’s one step at a time. It’s been since 2013, and we’re trying to lay the foundation for what’s to come. We hope not to hand that title back to another school for a few more years.”

Weatherford shot 8-for-14 from the floor on Saturday and also had six rebounds. Allison and Tanner Hamilton each finished with four points, and Lane Shewbart added two.

Red Bay shot 49 percent (23-for-47) from the floor and knocked down eight threes. The Tigers were stingy with the basketball, turning it over just five times.

Mason Bragwell finished with 14 points and seven rebounds to lead Belgreen. Willingham hit three threes and had 13 points and seven boards. Gaven Taylor scored five points, and Brant Bragwell had four. Scout Bragwell, Kostner Bryant and David Plott added two apiece.

The Tigers will shoot for their 20th win of the season on Monday night at home against Phil Campbell.



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