One team is trying to get to state for the second straight season and other is trying to get there for the first time in 33 years.
Those are the storylines as the Covington girls’ and boys’ basketball teams navigate their way through the Region 8-AA tournament this week in Memphis.
After dispatching Raleigh-Egypt 77-69 at home last Saturday, the Covington boys routed Fayette-Ware 79-53 Tuesday night at Wooddale High School to qualify for the sectionals and move into the region championship game Thursday at 7 p.m. against Wooddale.
Covington (23-4), which lost to Fayette-Ware Feb. 7 on senior night, jumped out to a 42-23 halftime lead and cruised from there. Tyjuan Smith led the way with 22 points. Brandon Alston added 18, Martez Logan scored 14 and Travontae Powell added 10.
Was revenge on their mind?
“I don’t think it was revenge. I don’t think our kids even felt like that,” said Covington head coach Charles Mitchell. “Our kids understood they didn’t play well (in the loss to Fayette-Ware). It was more like what we did to ourselves. I’m not saying that to put anybody down because we got beat. I think after we looked at the tape and saw what we did, or basically didn’t do, we just saw we had to pick it up and do what we do. We just didn’t play well.”
Wooddale, which won the Class AA state title last year, is ranked second in the state and led by juniors Jalen Brown and Johnathan Lawson (26.5 points per game), both of whom are high-level D-I prospects.
If Covington beats Wooddale it will host a sectional game, the winner of which advances to the state tournament, next Monday. A loss means the Chargers will travel. The sectional opponent will be South Gibson or Jackson South Side, which is undefeated and ranked first in the state.
“South Side is the number one team in the state and Wooddale is number two, but remember this,” Mitchell said. “We’re the number six team in the state. If we hadn’t lost to Fayette-Ware, we could probably be ranked fourth. I don’t get into rankings. We’re going to play wherever we go.”
The last time Covington made it the sectionals was 2014, Mitchell’s first year as Covington’s head coach. The Chargers traveled to South Side, the eventual state champs, and lost by one point.
“They said we were going to get blown out,” Mitchell said. “I don’t believe there’s a fear factor. This team was built to play on the road. We’re just going to go do what we do like we always do. Nobody’s unbeatable this time of the year … I think we have a chance. All you ask for is a chance. We have the chance to play, now we just have to do something with it.”
The Lady Chargers (28-4) nearly saw their quest to get back to Murfreesboro come to a screeching halt Monday night in Memphis against Mitchell in the region semifinals.
Mitchell led by 11 at the half and scored with four seconds left in the game to go ahead 53-52.
Covington, out of timeouts, rushed down the court and got the ball to DiNiyasia Robinson at the rim. She was fouled with less than a second left, made her first free throw and missed the second, sending the game into overtime.
Kalynn Howard, who returned from injury last week, scored four quick points in OT and the defense held Mitchell scoreless the rest of the way for a 59-53 win.
Howard finished with 23 points, Felia Fayne scored 14 and Robinson scored 10. Covington made must 9 of 23 free throw attempts.
Covington had won 11 straight games heading into that game, and none of them were close.
“I definitely think it was a wake-up call,” head coach Katrisha Glass said. “Some of the girls we’re saying they were about to cry with two seconds left and down by one, but we did it.”
Covington now plays Melrose Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the region title game at Wooddale High School.
A win will set up a home sectional game Saturday against the Westview-Crockett County loser. With a loss, Covington will have to earn a state tournament bid against Crockett or Westview on the road.
“Tonight we’re going to play a really quick Melrose team,” Glass said. “We’ve game-planned for them a lot. The good thing is we should be able to get the ball inside to our post players.”