By Thomas Sellers Jr.
As Stan Gatlin rejoiced from a 59-32 rivalry victory over the Munford Cougars Jan. 30, his assistant coaches approached him with good news.
Dyer County 81-80 over Liberty was the update they gave Gatlin sitting outside of his office in the Brighton Gymnasium hallway. Gatlin gave a modest, relax nod to the coaches.
“We’ve just got to win out,” Gatlin declared.
The Cardinals took their first step toward defending their District 13-3A championship beating the Cougars 59-32. Brighton started the 2018 league schedule with a loss at Liberty. The new kids on the block of District 13-3A gave the Cardinals a wake-up call.
“They realize that just because we are the reigning champions, nobody was just going to allow us to come into their gym and beat them,” Gatlin said. “Every game we had to take as it was the last game we were ever going to play. They’ve come with the right intensity and mindset. We’ve done a great job.”
The win over the Cougars improved the Cardinals to 4-1 in league play. Brighton jumped ahead 15-7 in the first quarter behind shots from Zach Lewis, Aaron Alston and Trey Lemons.
In the second quarter Lemons continued his contributions with a three-pointer to make the score 29-12. A few seconds later Lemons made a steal and stride down the court for a one-hand slam making the halftime score 31-12.
“Quality minutes from our new starter Trey Lemons,” Gatlin noted. “He hadn’t played much this season, had been in the dog house. He realized this season is going to be over and I am still going to be complaining. Either I man up or I’m not going to play. He’s done a good job in practice and it’s translate over to the games.”
Lemons and the Cardinals kept the defensive intensity up in the third quarter holding the Cougars to 6 points in the period. Brighton players like Tae’lyr Gatlin, Jordan Dowell, Anthony Smith, Crishun Maclin and Lance West all took turns pressuring the Cougar main scorers like Landon Winter, James Farrow and the twins Kyree and Kylan Cunningham.
“Tonight we did a great job defensively holding Landon,” Gatlin noted. “He hit 7 threes against Dyer County. He had a big game against them. We limited the twins. They have some talent. Their record doesn’t do them justice based on how the team is. Coach does a great job of coaching those guys. They run some good stuff.”
Brighton went ahead 42-18 after three quarters when Maclin hit a couple of triples late in the period. In the fourth quarter the Cardinals scored 17 points with Dowell starting the output with a three-pointer.
Midway through the fourth quarter West and teammate DeMaryo Gatlin made layups in the lane making the tally 49-25.
Smith followed with a pair of jumpers to get Brighton into the 50s. The Cardinal offense closed with West making a bucket at the rim and hitting a three-pointer. Areon Worles hit a shot to make the final 59-32.
Gatlin was excited to see the contributions from various players. But he said February’s success will depend on how those Cardinals coexist with the Big Three of Alston, Lewis and Tae’lyr.
“Cherish this opportunity because this is going to be the last chance I get to coach y’all in high school,” Coach Gatlin said. “Cherish each game. It should mean something to you. Now we’re on the longest winning streak I’ve had since I’ve been here — 6 games. It sounds crazy because I’m used to winning 27, 19, 18 games in a row.
“We’re on a 6 game winning streak that I’m thankful for,” he concluded. “The guys are doing a great job of taking ownership of this. Once we kick on all cylinders, it’s going to be special.”
On Friday night the Cardinals took a step closer to repeating as regular-season champs beating Dyer County 75-49 in Brighton. The defeat dropped the Choctaws to 21-3 overall.
“It was a total team defensive effort,” Gatlin said. “Leading scorer was Zach Lewis with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. Marteze Logan lit it up with 17 points shooting 66 percent from three and Tae’lyr Gatlin flirted with a quadruple double with 10 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals.”