Eleven miles is all that separates the bitter rivalry between the Oak Ridge Wildcats and the Clinton Dragons. However, since 1990 the rivalry has been nothing but Oak Ridge. For 57 straight games, Oak Ridge has bested Clinton on the basketball court, and Tuesday night was no different for the Wildcats and Lady Wildcats. Both teams went on to soundly defeat their opponents.
The Oak Ridge Lady Wildcats were the first matchup of the night. Clinton’s players and coaches were pumped up before and during the entire game, and it was obvious that they had upset on the mind. However, thanks to a strong fourth quarter, the Lady Wildcats were able to defeat the Lady Dragons by a solid score of 65-54.
Clinton actually jumped out to an early lead on Oak Ridge. With a little less than 5:20 left in the first quarter, the Lady Dragons had an 8-1 lead. However, the Lady Wildcats fought back to a 10-8 lead thanks to a three-pointer by Jasmine Hembry with 3:51 left in the first quarter. Hembry would finish with 14 points, which was second on the team. After fighting back and forth, Oak Ridge would score a basket with :20 seconds left, and the score after one quarter was 15-13.
After Clinton tied the game at 15-15 early in the second quarter, Oak Ridge went on a 9-2 run over the next four minutes. The Lady Wildcats would outscore the Lady Dragons 17-8 in the second quarter, and the game was 32-21 after one half.
“Once we kinda got the tempo going the way we wanted it, we had some steals, we got going, and we felt excited about it,” head coach David Scott said. “We had some people come in in the first half and give us some quality minutes.”
The third quarter began as a solid outing by the Lady Wildcats, but by the end of the quarter, the Lady Dragons had Oak Ridge seeing double. After Oak Ridge reached a lead of 41-28, the Lady Dragons scored 10 unanswered points to bring the lead to 41-38 with only a quarter left to play.
The Dragons attempted to drag the run into the fourth quarter by scoring the first basket of the quarter and making it a one-point game. However, Oak Ridge’s offense turned on, and the Lady Wildcats scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to end the Lady Dragons’ hopes of an upset 65-54.
“You could tell we were hesitant at times, but at other times, we went and got the ball and made plays,” Scott said. “It was a great team win tonight. We had a lot of people contribute…There’s some things you’d like to do better, but you gotta appreciate the team win, so we’ll come back tomorrow and get better.”
Mykia Dowdell led the Lady Wildcats in scoring again Tuesday night with 24 points. Dowdell shot 10-14 from the charity stripe. Princess Bates and Caelyn Thompson both finished the night with seven points each, and Courtney Ellison contributed with five points. However, Hembry’s 14 off the bench stole the show, as she knocked down three three-pointers and two free throws in the final quarter of play.
Miranda Love led the Lady Dragons in scoring with 16, followed closely behind by Jordan Whitt’s 14. Kelley Wandell also had nine.
With the victory, the Lady Wildcats improve to 13-7 overall and 8-1 in district play. Their next game will take place at Powell this Friday night at 6 p.m. The Lady Wildcats next home game will be next Friday, January 23, against Anderson County.
While the ladies’ game was close, the boys’ game was an absolute blowout, as the Wildcats dismantled the Dragons by a whopping score of 80-52. Dunks and three-pointers were the story of this game, as the Wildcats smothered their opponent in the last three quarters.
Clinton actually jumped out to an early lead on the Wildcats by scoring the first points of the game. However, within two minutes, the Wildcats had already stormed back and taken the lead by the 5:17 mark of the first quarter. The first quarter had the feel of the Staples Center in Los Angeles with all the fantastic dunking going on. Tee Higgins had two, and Darel Middleton dribbled the ball behind his back before slamming it home on his dunk. After one quarter of play, the Wildcats had a commanding 20-9 lead.
“We got off to a good start,” head coach Aaron Green said. “We got him (Higgins) a dunk on a lob set play against their zone, and he got one on the break, which I thought were two of his better dunks on the year.”
The second quarter was much of the same for Oak Ridge, but the Wildcats relied move heavily on threes in this quarter. DeAndre Gibson hit three three-pointers in the first half of play and, behind three dunks and stellar defensive play, the Wildcats had a 40-20 lead entering halftime. The Dragons didn’t reach a double-digit point total until 5:05 left in the second quarter.
Other than a wicked dunk by Javien Johnson, the entire second half was just a steady amount of scoring by Oak Ridge. No huge threes and no insane dunking in the second half: The Wildcats strictly played smart basketball. They put a lot of pressure where it was needed, and they escaped with an easy 80-52 victory by the time things were said and done.
“One thing that stands out to me is that Gee (Geevantay Gee) had 11 assists,” Coach Green said. “He really shared it and got people shots, and a lot of people made those shots…E.J. Bush got on the glass and had a lot of putbacks. We had pretty good balance.”
Higgins led the team in scoring with 14 points, while Bush contributed with 12. Middleton and DeAndre Gibson both came in off the bench nicely. Gibson had 11, and Middleton had 10.
Tyler Thackerson led the Dragons with 17 points on the night, while Elijah Powers was right behind him with 14. Gavin Shelton also had 12.
The Wildcats move to 17-2 overall and 9-0 in district play with the win. Clinton falls to 3-11 and 3-6 in district play. The Wildcats next game will be Friday immediately following the girls’ game at Powell. The Wildcats next home game will be after the ladies next Friday, January 23, against rival Anderson County.
Trenton Duffer is a sports writer at the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon and a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.