By Thomas Sellers Jr.
It’s December and two words just need to be said — Munford/Millington.
The basketball rivalry means throw out the records and lace up the sneakers for an intense 32 minutes of action. The latest showcase between the Millington Trojans and Munford Cougars took place on the hardwood of the Munford Gymnasium Friday night.
And the first 8 minutes was a seesaw affair with Ryan Ross’ Cougars holding an 11-10 advantage heading into the second quarter. After Munford grabbed a quick 14-10 lead early in the second quarter, the Trojans closed out the first half on a 20-0 run.
Millington was able to fight off a couple of Munford comeback attempts to prevail 54-39.
“We finally started playing with a little passion, started defending better and started being smarter defensively,” Millington Head Coach Jewell Gates said. “Offensively, started to put the ball in the basket. This is a simple game. Defend the other team and score the ball when you get it without giving back to the other team.
“We’re still fighting that battle of giving back to the other team,” he added. “But we are getting better. And that’s what we’re trying to do is get better every day, every game and every second.”
The opening seconds of the game was more like the first round of a prize fight. Both teams were feeling each other out by trading blows. Trojan Bobby Macklin was first to make contact with a bucket inside.
Then Munford had a counter with free throws from Zach Yelvington and a layup from Kyree Cunningham. After two addition foul shots from Yelvington, the Cougars were ahead 6-2.
Millington’s Hunter Klutts threw an uppercut with a three-pointer to make the score 6-5. With the score 9-7 in favor of the Cougars, Trojan power forward Mac Coulter toss an unexpected haymaker by hitting a three-pointer.
Millington was ahead 10-9, but a last-second foul put Munford on the line. Kylan Cunningham was able to make the free throws to put the Cougars in the lead entering the second period.
In Round Two, Munford popped Millington with a quick jab courtesy of a Sam Hart three-pointer to jump ahead 14-10.
After Millington absorb that blow, the Trojans returned force with a 20-0 run to close out the second quarter and seize control of the game. The run started with a Rodney McGhee three-pointer.
Kaveyon Lewis gave the Trojans the lead with a layup. Then Millington added points from Macklin and Klutts.
Macklin scored in the paint while Klutts consistently drilled outside shots. The offense was created off turnovers from the Trojans’ press. Millington was able to take advantage of the revolving door in the Munford backcourt. Ross had to make multiple substitutions because his players were in foul trouble.
Millington was ahead 30-14 at the break. Munford chipped away at the Trojan advantage in the third quarter but Coulter made a three-point play that kept Millington comfortably ahead.
The final seconds of the period Millington got a Macklin put-back bucket and a Klutts triple to stay ahead 38-24.
The Cougars were able to fight back to cut the deficit to 40-32 midway through the fourth quarter. Klutts had the answer once again hitting a trey to spark Millington’s final run of the night. The Trojans outscored Munford 14-7 to earn the victory.
Gates noted his backcourt of McGhee and brothers Bryce and Jonathan Mattox were the keys to the momentum changing in the favor of Millington. But as both teams exited the floor, some fight was still left inside the players.
Tempers had to be controlled between the rivals. Gates said the passion of the Millington/Munford rivalry will always be intense but the student/athletes have to remember to always show class.
“You’re playing a team that is 8 miles away,” Gates said. “You see these a little bit here or there either in Millington or here in Munford. That kind of stuff does make you play a little harder. But you’ve also got to play smart.
“The stuff here at the end, I don’t like stuff like that,” he concluded. “You learn how to win with class. I like class, that’s who I am. You have to handle everything in a good way.”