By Thomas Sellers Jr.
MEMPHIS — The court at the Memphis Catholic Gymnasium was sweating from the humidity of the more than 70-degree November night.
The official had to stop play at times just to dry off the basketball. The humid conditions were put on the back burner for a moment when Brighton Cardinal guard Taelyr Gatlin brought the thunder against the Memphis Catholic Chargers.
While helping his Brighton Cardinals prevail 34-33, Gatlin attacked the rim in the first quarter for a powerful one-hand slam to give Brighton an 8-5 lead.
“Did you see that dunk by Taelyr,” Brighton Head Coach Stan Gatlin asked rhetorically. “Boy, that really set the tempo.”
The dunk by Gatlin put the much taller Catholic lineup on high alert. The Cardinals took the court in their season-opener with Gatlin in the backcourt despite being the tallest in red and black.
The Chargers had three players on their roster taller than 6’6. Brighton used speed and quickness to achieve a 9-5 lead after one quarter.
The Cardinals received contribution from players like Tramaine Cooper, Aaron Alston and Zach Lewis in the second quarter to maintain the lead at 19-14 at the break.
Lewis caught a Gatlin missed three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half like an alley-oop for a layup at the buzzer.
The Chargers made a few halftime adjustments to start the third quarter on a 9-2 run to grab the lead. When Catholic storm settled down, the Chargers were ahead 27-21.
“The guys learned how to fight through adversity,” the elder Gatlin said. “I’m just extremely proud. It got to a point to where we got down. Most coaches might have panic and called a timeout. I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to let them learn out there on the floor. It’s an early season game.’
“I don’t like to waste timeouts when I can coach it out there on the floor,” he continued. “That’s about me trusting my team too and my leadership out there. They did a good job too.”
The Brighton players righted the ship when Gatlin found teammate Ethan Bell for two points. Then Gatlin drained a three-pointer to make the score 27-26.
Then it was Cooper’s turn to use his passing skills to help the team. The senior guard tossed a dime behind his back to Lewis for a layup making the score 28-27 by the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a slugfest on the slippery court. The moisture had build up to a point players from both teams hit the deck several times.
More players fell to the court than shots made in the final 8 minutes. Alston broke a 28-28 tie scoring on a pass from Gatlin.
The Chargers rallied to take a 33-30 advantage. The Cardinals trimmed the Catholic advantage to a point when Cooper hit Alston with a no-look pass in the lane for a layup.
In the final moments, Gatlin scored two points in a less spectacular way. The sophomore guard stepped to the free-throw line and drained a pair of foul shots to give Brighton a 34-33 lead.
The Cardinals were able to nurse that one-point lead to the buzzer for the victory. Gatlin said he was proud of all his player for overcoming the conditions, court, adversity and size of the Chargers.
“It will be a tremendous confidence boost for our inside players,” he said. “We’re an undersized team. I’ve said it all summer that we will have to play different losing two key players from the post. They were good size kids. We will have to play differently this year.
“We’ll have to trust each other,” Gatlin concluded. “And hopefully once we fully learn our system, we’re doing a decent job of it right now. We’re getting better. Hopefully it will come to fruition at the right time which is districts.”