Categorized | Sports

Fierce First: Cardinals claim at least a piece of league crown

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Brighton's Aaron Alston goes up for a layup during second half action Friday night against Dyer County.

Brighton’s Aaron Alston goes up for a layup during second half action Friday night against Dyer County.

Stan Gatlin has been a coach for several years reaching the Class 3A Girls State championship game in 2008 with Millington.
And the Mississippi native has been a father long enough to see a son graduate near the top of his school and attend Vanderbilt.
Gatlin has enjoyed the highlights and success of parenthood with partner/wife Demeka by his side. And over the years many great basketball minds have assisted Gatlin in building young women and men into championship teams.
Both proud father and proud coach were on display Friday night in the Brighton Gymnasium as the clock ticked down to zero with Gatlin’s Brighton Cardinals defeating the Dyer County Choctaws 82-61.
The victory ended Dyer County’s 11 streak of winning the District 13-3A title. The win also meant Brighton’s first sweep of the Choctaws during the regular season giving the Cardinals at least a share of the regular season district crown.
Four Cardinal players reached double figures in the 21-point victory including Gatlin’s son Taelyr. Along with 19 points, the younger Gatlin had 13 steals in the milestone win.
“His IQ is amazing,” the elder Gatlin said. “It’s just amazing the journey for him from the time he first said, ‘Dad, I want to play basketball.’
“As a coach you’re proud of the progress he has made,” he continued. “As a father also you’re like, ‘My Baby has been putting in that work.’ It’s two fold for me to be able to see it on both sides of the coin. I’m very proud of him.”
Gatlin was also proud of his senior guard Alex Malone and his outstanding first quarter.
“Alex was amazing tonight with 17 points,” he noted. “Too bad he got into foul trouble there.”
Malone hit two triples early in the first quarter to make the score 8-0. Taelyr paced the Cardinals by running the point and scoring 5 points in the first period.
When Malone hit his third triple of the first quarter, the Cardinals were ahead 23-10 heading into the second quarter.
“The first quarter I think we played with a lot of energy, lot of enthusiasm, under control and with a lot of discipline,” Gatlin said. “In the second quarter, I don’t think we played with the same veracity.
“They started off that quarter with a run,” he continued. “I said, ‘We’re not scoring anything. They’re scoring.’ We were making bad decisions. We were taking our threes too deep. I was like guys, ‘I don’t mind you shooting threes. But don’t be taking them from the volleyball line.’”
The Choctaws scored the first six points of the quarter to make the score 23-16. Brighton’s Jordan Johnson ended Brighton’s drought with a put-back bucket. Taelyr hit a couple of treys down the stretch of the first half to make the score 35-21 at halftime.
In the second half Gatlin unleashed his other senior Ethan Bell. After the coach and player had a conversation about shot selection, it seemed every jumper Bell took in the second half was ideal.
Bell drained three long range shots in the third quarter helping the Cardinals seize control of the game. Bell’s final triple of the period made the score 55-33.
Cardinal Aaron Alston added to his double-figure output with the final two points of the quarter giving Brighton a 59-40 advantage.
In the fourth quarter Bell kept up the hot shooting with back-to-back three-pointers.
“I told him when you get back into the game, step up and take your shots,” Gatlin recalled. “When he gets on, you better cover him up.”
With Dyer County on the ropes, Brighton gave the knockout blow with a Zach Lewis tomahawk slam. It was time for the Cardinals to take a moment to celebrate their first goal of the 2016-17 season and reflect on the journey toward becoming champions.
“We’re resilient,” Gatlin concluded. “We got that taste out of our mouths from last year when we had a chance to win it last  year. It’s been 11 straight years they’ve won the district championship. And for us to be there at it last year and get the job done and be consistent at it, it’s beautiful.”

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