Lady Blaze enter as favorite in Class AAA field

Lady Blaze enter as favorite in Class AAA field


Lady Blaze enter as favorite in Class AAA field



Blackman coach Chad Hibdon may not admit it.

But there is a target on he and his girls basketball team’s backs.

In a year when some of the old regulars won’t be taking the Murphy Center floor this week for the TSSAA Class AAA Girls Basketball State Tournament, Blackman will be there toting not only the status as the top team in the state, but also the country.

The top-ranked Lady Blaze (31-1) faces unranked Houston High (26-7) at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday in their Class AAA state quarterfinal.

“I think we were all still in the euphoria of winning (Saturday) night,” said Houston second-year coach Chad Becker, who led his team to the program’s first state tournament berth in school history. “If somebody has to beat them, it might as well be us.

“We just came in and were hoping to not be the (10 a.m.) game to be honest with you. I don’t think anyone wants to play the most important game of the year at 10 o’clock in the morning. So, we dodged that bullet and got another one about 10 minutes later.”

Two of the eight Class AAA teams — Houston and Rossview — are making their first state tournament appearance. Jefferson County is making its first appearance since 1983. And Memphis Ridgeway hasn’t been here in recent years.

They helped fill a void left vacant by several powerhouses that have been eliminated.

Two-time defending state champion Riverdale is at home. Science Hill, who has been the state runner-up the past two seasons, lost in the region semifinals like Riverdale. Oh, and Memphis powers Overton and Central — both regulars at the state tournament — will only be in the ‘Boro this week as spectators.

“But you see Blackman (is here),” said Morristown West coach Johnny Galyon, whose team is here for the first time since 2010. “But when you get to this level, everyone is good. All you have to do is look at their records. They have 20-plus and 30 wins.”

Maybe so.

But a collective sigh of relief could be heard in the DoubleTree Hotel conference room as pairings were announced Sunday and coaches discovered they had dodged the Lady Blaze — at least for the first round. Blackman is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press’ statewide Class AAA poll and is No. 1 in the country by USA Today and MaxPreps. ESPN has the Lady Blaze ranked third in the country.

“For us, it’s irrelevant,” said Hibdon regarding his team’s status as favorite. “Whether you play the underdog role or whether you are the favorite, you have got to win basketball games. I appreciate coaches saying that.

“It says a lot about the talent we have on our team and the work they put in. Maybe it gives us a little bit of an advantage. Maybe they aren’t as confident. But you’ve got eight really good teams here. It will take three really good games for somebody to cut the nets down on Saturday.”

Blackman faces Houston for the second time this season. The Lady Blaze routed Houston 61-37 on Dec. 20 at the Mid-State Christmas Tournament at Ezell-Harding.

Perennial power Mt. Juliet (29-1) plays Jefferson (22-11) at 1:15 p.m. in the other game in the bottom bracket.

Cannon draws Knoxville Fulton

Like Blackman, Cannon County also will be opening its state tournament against a team reaching state for the first time in school history.

The Lionettes, ranked No. 1 in Class AA, faces eighth-ranked Knoxville Fulton at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Class AA tournament.

Cannon County (33-4) is playing in its third state tournament in four years. Fulton (28-5) upset Grainger 57-55 in its sectional.

“I’ve coached two of their kids (Keeke McKinney and Quay Hines) in AAU,” Cannon County coach Michael Dodgen said. “They are very athletic. It will be one of the most athletic teams we’ve played all year.

“I like our draw. When you get to this point, there is not really a great draw.”


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