It was so hot in the jam-packed Bolivar High School gym Monday night, dozens of fans were using flattened popcorn boxes to fan themselves.
And, despite the fact that Covington beat Bolivar by 21 points 19 days previously, Charger fans and players had to sweat this one out until the end.
The Chargers trailed Bolivar by six late in the third quarter as they struggled to figure out Bolivar’s 2-3 zone. Covington finally solved it, though, on the way to a 71-62 win for its second straight District 15-AA tournament title.
Covington (26-4) now moves on to the Region 8-AA quarterfinals and will host Raleigh-Egypt Saturday at 7 p.m.
“We figured it was coming,” Covington head coach Charles Mitchell said about Bolivar’s zone. “We knew he didn’t want to play man. We got out of our sets early, but then we finally figured out what was going on.”
Bolivar (18-10) went on an 11-0 run midway through the second quarter to go up 34-26. Travontae Powell, who led all scorers with 20 points, hit a 3-pointer to stop the run and hit another right before the halftime buzzer to cut the lead to one point.
The Tigers went ahead by six late in the third quarter before a 3-pointer by Brandon Alston and buckets by C.J. Fayne and Powell gave Covington a 57-53 lead with 6:12 left in the game. Bolivar came out of its zone for the first time all game and the Chargers controlled things from there.
Alston finished with 17 points and Tyjuan Smith scored 13, seven of which came in the first quarter. Alston was named the regular season MVP, Smith was the tournament MVP and Mitchell won the Coach of the Year award.
Before the district tournament started, Covington ordered some new warmup shirts with the following message on the back: “Avoid the noise.”
What does that mean?
“We just have to focus, take all the outside things out of our minds and just play,” Smith said.
“It means all the talking we hear, just block that out,” Alston said. “We don’t need to hear that. Just focus on what’s between the lines and focus on what our coaches say.”
There’s still plenty of work to do before Covington can think about making the state tournament for the first time since 1987.
If Covington can get past Raleigh-Egypt on Saturday it will play Fayette-Ware or Craigmont on Tuesday at Wooddale High School in another elimination game. A win there puts Covington into the region title game, probably against Wooddale. Region title game winners host a sectional game, while losers travel. Sectional winners advance to state.
“We were in this spot last year and things didn’t work out,” Mitchell said. “Right now some things are in our favor, but we still have to play. We’ve been there, we’ve knocked, now we’ve got to go through the door.”
In other action:
The Covington Lady Chargers continued their dominance of District 15-AA last week in tournament action at Bolivar.
Covington (26-4) dispatched Bolivar 66-28 in the semifinals on Thursday and routed Haywood 73-43 in the title game Saturday to earn its second straight league title.
Felia Fayne was named the regular season and tournament MVP and Katrisha Glass earned Coach of the Year honors.
Covington, which has won 10 straight games, will host Craigmont Friday night at 7 in a region quarterfinal game. The region semifinals will be Monday and the finals next Wednesday at Wooddale High School in Memphis.