LEBANON - For the second year in-a-row Mt. Juliet ended the hopes that the Bison faithful had of bringing home a district tournament championship.
The 57-47 loss to the Bears at Wilson Central Tuesday night means that Station Camp earns the number two seed heading into the Region 5-AAA tournament, which begins play on Saturday. It also means the Bison will host Henry County out of District 10-AAA at 7 p.m. on February 29.
The Bison’s second consecutive second-place finish didn’t come without a fight, however.
Station Camp could have easily thrown in the towel early, but Seth Massey’s crew refused to back down and gave the regular-season champions all that they could handle over the next 24 minutes.
Mt. Juliet raced out to a 10-0 lead before Station Camp scored their first points of the game, and ended the quarter leading 14-4 over the maroon and silver.
With a collective moan from the Bison cheering section, the time had come for Station Camp to either show up or get run out of the building.
They chose to show up.
Trailing by seven, 17-10, early in the second frame, Station Camp reeled off a 10-3 run aided by an Eli Thurston and Jack Gold 3-pointer right before the half tying the game at 20 heading into the locker room.
The two teams continued to battle in the third quarter before Mt. Juliet looked as if they would take control, 30-25.
However, following a Cameron Gerlach free throw to bring the Bison to within four, Gerlach missed his next free throw, but Kheller Die’ was there to find the offensive rebound and score to cut the Bear lead to just two with over 20 seconds left in the corner.
After getting a stop on defense, Station Camp found senior Eli Thurston in the corner where he fired off his long-distance shot at the buzzer, sinking the 3-pointer giving Station Camp a 31-30 lead after 24 minutes.
A back-and-forth start to the fourth quarter saw five lead changes and one tie before Mr. Basketball Finalist Will Pruitt took over.
Trailing 36-35, Pruitt connected on a layup then a 3-pointer to push the Bears out in front for good, 40-36.
Mt. Juliet went on to score the next six points of the game, capping their 16-5 run to start the quarter.
For the next two minutes, Station Camp cut the Mt. Juliet lead to six, 46-40, but that was as close as the team would get to the Bears.
“That’s a good basketball team,” Station Camp head coach Seth Massey said. “All we are looking for is a chance to win it, and we felt like we had that. Defensively I thought we guarded well; we couldn’t generate enough offense. It wasn’t us either - their defense is that good, so credit to them.”
Massey admits the one thing that will haunt him and his team when they go back to look at the film is their 21 turnovers.
“I think looking back, we will see our turnovers and our lack of offense hurt us,” Massey added. “They are an excellent team, and it’s just so hard to generate points on them.”
When asked what the difference was in the final five minutes, Massey praised the play of Mt. Juliet’s senior leader.
“That final quarter was just him (Will Pruitt) making plays,” he said. “He hit shots, he made plays, and that is what good players do. Once we got to that point in the game, he did what he does.”
Station Camp will host Henry County on Saturday, February 29, at 7 p.m. in the Region 5-AAA quarterfinals. The winner will advance to the Region 5-AAA semifinals held at Springfield High School.
Mt. Juliet (57): Will Pruitt 24, Isaac Thompson 13, Charles Clark 9, Gage Wells 5, Riggs Abner 5.
Station Camp (47): Eli Thurston 17, Kavon Blankenship 13, Cameron Gerlach 9, Kheller Die’ 4, Jack Gold 3, Tyler Moore 1.