-Boys earn runner up at Battle of the States
The LCHS varsity boys basketball team fell just shy of its third Battle of the States tournament championship title during LCHS head boys basketball coach Jeff Steele’s tenure at the helm of the team when they participated in the 25th annual tournament hosted by Towns County High School on Dec. 27-29.
“I’ve had my fair share of tournament wins as a player and as a coach,” said Steele before the tournament started on Thursday, Dec. 27. “I am hoping to win this tournament not for me, but for these kids. They’ve began to play well and we finally have everybody healthy and ready to play.”
With Chandler Wikle coming off of an injury that sidelined him up until the start of the tournament and several other players who had been banged up during the season at 100 percent, the Indians took to the court with a complete team for the first time this season when they squared off with Hayesville, N.C. in the first round of the Battle of the States tournament on Thursday, Dec. 27.
The two teams began the contest slowly, feeling each other out and trading baskets. By the end of the first quarter, Lumpkin held a 14-13 lead over Hayesville.
However, that lead grew into a 15 point advantage by halftime thanks to the Indians outscoring Hayesville 26-12 in the second quarter.
Eight different Indian players scored in the first half. Wikle enjoyed a strong comeback to the court with nine first half points. Junior Pat Jackson also scored nine points in the half for Lumpkin.
Matt Seabolt contributed six points and Jacob Cumbie added five points to help the Indians build the 15-point halftime lead.
The Yellow Jackets tried to close the gap between the two squads in the third quarter and outscored the Indians 14-10, but Lumpkin still held a 50-39 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Hayesville kept the pressure on the Indians in the final quarter. The Yellow Jackets continued to battle, but Lumpkin was able to survive the offensive onslaught enough to emerge victorious by a final score of 65-57.
“There at the end we had trouble with finishing them,” Steele said. “We are still learning how to win late in games. But, it feels good to get a win and to get the job done.”
Jackson led the charge for the Indians’ offense in the contest with 15 points. Wikle followed right behind Jackson with 14 points in his first game back with the team and Cumbie rounded out the top three scorers for the Indians with 13 points, giving Lumpkin three double-digit scorers in the win.
The Indians followed their first round win over Hayesville with another impressive performance on the hardwood when they faced off with Polk, Tenn. in the second round of the tournament on Friday, Dec. 28, to find out which team would advance to the tournament championship game.
Polk started off fast and built a five-point advantage by the end of the first quarter, leading the Indians 20-15.
Lumpkin settled down in the second quarter. The Indians’ defense began to make stops and its offense outscored Polk 18-15 in the quarter to cut the Polk lead to 35-33 by halftime.
Polk came out with a vengeance after halftime, dropping 21 points on Lumpkin in the third quarter. The Indians tried to hold their own and knocked down 17 points to keep within striking distance of Polk. Lumpkin trailed 56-50 going into the final quarter.
The momentum switched to the Indians’ favor in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Lumpkin went on an 11-2 run at take a 61-58 lead. Polk kept fighting, however, and had pulled the game to within a point with 46.8 seconds remaining on the clock.
With less than a minute left, Polk fouled Lumpkin point guard Gus Faulkner. The sophomore cooly knocked down both free throws to give the Indians a 68-65 lead. Faulkner was fouled again on the Indians’ next possession after Lumpkin forced a turnover. Once again Faulkner knocked down both free throws to give the Indians a 70-65 lead with 21.1 seconds left in the game to seal the game for Lumpkin. Jackson added another free throw with 9.5 seconds left to give the Indians a 71-65 victory over Polk.
Seabolt dominated the low post for the Indians when they meet up with Polk in the second round of the Battle of the States tournament. Seabolt recored a double-double, took four charges and was a key component to Lumpkin’s offensive game plan. Polk struggled to contain the senior and Seabolt took advantage by scoring 24 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Jake Granger stepped up his game on both sides of the court against Polk. The senior locked down Polk’s biggest offensive weapon and knocked down shots when his team needed them the most. Granger finished the contest with 16 points.
“He took it personal,” Steele said. “He wasn’t going to let the kid get a good shot, and he didn’t.”
Peyton Polk proved to be an integral cog in the Indians’ offense versus Polk. The junior contributed 12 points, seven of which came in the first half, in the victory over Polk.
The fourth quarter comeback victory advanced the Indians to the Battle of the States championship game versus Walhalla, S.C. on Saturday, Dec. 29.
With the team staying together in Towns County and two straight wins under their belt, Steele began to see his team gel as a cohesive unit for the first time this season. It was something that made the longtime coach optimistic about the remainder of the season.
“Whether we win or not, I already feel like this tournament has been a success for our team,” Steele said before the championship game. “They’re starting to play for each other and starting to become a family. Teams that play for each other are competitive and hard to stop.”
Unfortunately for the team, the Indians had one of their worst offensive performances of the season against the Walhalla Razorbacks in the Battle of the States championship game when the two teams took to the court to crown a tournament champion on Saturday, Dec. 29.
Lumpkin struggled to knock down shots early while Walhalla exploited the Indians with their size and length advantage in the low post to jump out to a 20-8 advantage after the first quarter of play.
The Razorbacks continued to pummel the Indians in the low post in the second quarter. Lumpkin had no answers on the other side of the court and scored just five points in the quarter to go into the halftime break down 35-13.
Walhalla’s offense turned it up a notch in the third quarter, outscoring the Indians 30-7 to extend their lead to 65-20 going into the final quarter.
With his team down by 45 points, Steele went to his bench and let his JV players get some tournament experience.
In the end, Walhalla defeated Lumpkin by a final score of 78-24.
Cumbie led the Indians in scoring with seven points, all of which were scored in the first half. Granger contributed six points in the loss.
Seabolt and Jackson, who have been two of the strongest scorers for Lumpkin this season, scored just two points apiece in the woeful offensive performance for the Indians.
The loss kept the Indians from hoisting the championship trophy, but the runner up finish should build confidence in the team as they prepare to get back into their tough Region 7-AAA schedule.
Polk and Seabolt each received All-Tournament honors for their contributions during the three-day tournament.
With the 2-1 record the Indians earned during the Battle of the States tournament, the team now sits at 5-11 overall for the season.
The Indians will get back on the court, looking to build on the positives they saw during the Battle of the States tournament, when they travel to North Hall to battle it out with the Trojans in a Region 7-AAA matchup this Friday, Jan. 4. Tip off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.