By Thomas Sellers Jr.
First it was Justin Wertner vs. Jordan Browning.
Then it was Justin Wertner vs. LaKeron Garcia.
For a moment Millington’s Andrew Banks took his shot against St. George’s Wertner.
Then finally Millington Trojan Julian Daughtry took on the challenge of the Gryphon.
Despite a team effort from the Millington Trojans, Wertner and his St. George’s teammates escaped from the William Osteen Gymnasium in Millington with a 72-70 opening night victory last Thursday.
“They had a guy with 30,” Millington Head Coach Rob Sabau said. “Our 30 point scorer, our best offensive weapon didn’t play tonight. He played maybe 30 seconds and couldn’t move. So we pulled him out.”
Wertner scored a game-high 30 points. Millington wanted to counter Wertner with senior guard/forward Roddarius Pitts. But a thigh bruise suffered in practice was too painful to overcome at game time.
So the new-look Trojans took the court for their first game in the 2013-14 season without one of their best players.
“What I’ve been telling everybody who has been asking me since the beginning of school, ‘How we’re going to be?’” Sabau said. “We’re going to be a lot better in February than we are in November. If this is our start, I like where our ending could be.
“We’re not young gradewise,” he added. “But we’re young experiencewise. And with a young team you have to keep their spirits up. You’ve got to stay upbeat. Let them make their growing pains and mistakes so they can get better everyday so they’re playing their best ball in February.”
It was one of Millington’s veteran players that got things started against St. George’s. Browning nailed a three-pointer to give the Trojans a 3-0 lead.
The senior guard tallied 9 points in the first period with three triples. Browning even nailed a three-pointer near the volleyball line on the court that made the score 12-12. Despite the outside touch of Browning, St. George’s was ahead 22-16 after one quarter.
At one point the Gryphons were ahead 22-12. Millington responded with a 12-0 run over the first and second quarters. In the second quarter a jumper from Devynn Brandon made the score 22-18.
Then Garcia took over with back-to-back triples to give Millington a 24-22 advantage. Over the next 6 minutes the game became a seesaw battle with multiple lead changes.
Late in the first half Wertner hit a three-pointer that made the score 34-30. Millington closed out the quarter with a jumper from Jarkell Freeman and a pair of foul shots from Demarius Curry to tie the game at 34-34. Freeman’s free throw gave the Trojans a 35-34 lead at the break.
Coming out the locker room, Wertner already popped 16 points on the scoreboard. Banks was ready to take his turn at battling Wertner.
The Millington forward hit a jumper and three pointer to keep the game close. St. George’s was ahead 41-40.
Trailing 47-45, the Trojans regained the advantage when Daughtry hit a three-pointer. Behind 51-50, St. George’s had an obvisous answer with Wertner. He nailed another triple to make the score 53-51.
Daughtry tied the game at 53-53 with a jumper. But to close out the quarter Wertner was at it again draining a three-pointer to make the score 56-53.
In the fourth quarter St. George’s added to its three-point lead taking a 65-55 lead. The Trojans battled back to tie the game when Garcia hit a three-pointer. But down the stretch the Gryphons outscored the Trojans 7-5 to pull out a win.
Despite the defeat, Sabau wasn’t frustrated after leaving his locker room and taking a seat in his office.
“Three of these guys who played tonight have only been to three practices,” he said. “And already their chemistry is way ahead of where we ever where last year.
“I hate losing. And it still hurts to lose,” Sabau concluded. “But I’m not upset. I like where we’re at. I think we’re going to get better. St. George’s is a really good ball club.”