By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Win and you host a Region 7-3A Tournament game next Saturday night.
Lose and you have to travel to one of the best teams in District 14-3A that evening. The rivals Munford Cougars and Brighton Cardinals knew what was on the line Friday night entering the District 13-3A Semifinal contest.
The host Cougars were locked in defensively on the No. 1 seeded Cardinals holding Brighton to 17 points in the first half. The Cardinals made enough adjustments in the second half to prevail 49-26.
“He (Ryan Ross) always does a great job against us defensively taking something away,” Brighton Head Coach Stan Gatlin said. “I knew that coming in that I had to figure out what he was going to do to cause distribution in our offense.
“He normally does a good job of that,” he continued. “So about the time we saw it, we made a few adjustments in the second half to give us a little more freedom. It worked out and Zach was on. It was mostly what they did and partially of what we were not doing right.”
Ryan Ross’ Cougars were attacking defensively in the post with Kelan Ivy and James Farrow. Munford guards like Montel Miller, Kyree Cunningham, Branden Baker, Kylan Cunningham, Zach Yelvington and Deon Banks were on the prowl around the perimeter in the first half.
Munford’s defense held Brighton to 9 first-quarter points. The Cardinals could only tally 8 points in the second quarter. Meanwhile the Brighton defense was up to the challenge forcing Munford turnovers and missed shots. The Cardinals were ahead 17-13 at the break.
“We had like three offensive rebound in the first half,” Gatlin noted. “Taelyr (Gatlin) was taking some shots he normally makes. But guys were not prepared to move. We did not do a good job when the ball was released of circling around getting in rebound position.
“We still didn’t rebound the way I wanted us to in the second half, but we did take better shots,” he added. “They were closer to the rim or they got others involved. Things worked out for us in the second half.”
Brighton’s third quarter output equaled its first half scoring. The Cardinals tallied 17 points starting with an Aaron Alston bucket.
Then regular-season district MVP Taelyr Gatlin hit a jumper to make the score 22-13.
Baker ended Munford’s drought with a layup. Brighton’s Zach Lewis answered with a jumper.
After All-District performer Ivy made a layup for the Cougars, Gatlin hit a triple that made the score 27-17. Brighton outscored Munford 7-4 the rest of the third quarter with Alex Malone making a layup and Lewis draining a three-pointer.
Brighton’s 34-21 lead grew by two points when Lewis made a layup to begin the fourth quarter. Down the stretch the Cardinals got buckets from Ethan Bell, Gatlin and Lewis.
The Cardinals’ victory allowed them to advance to the Tuesday night championship game against the No. 3 seeded Dyer County Choctaws.
The Choctaws were victorious over Hardin County 70-62 in the second Semifinal game. Munford will take on the Hardin County Tigers at 6 p.m. in the Munford Gymnasium Tuesday night for third place.
Then the Brighton/Dyer County game will follow to determine the champions of District 13-3A. Both the Cardinals and Choctaws will host Region 7-3A Tournament opening round games.
“It was extremely important to win this game,” Gatlin noted. “This year we’ve been fortunate enough to win all of our home games. For us to define home, get another game and we’re hosting the Region anyway, it will be great to give our fans a chance to see hopefully three more home games before the season is over with.”