By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Last night in the Hardin County Gymnasium, Brighton was led by the Big Three of Aaron Alston, Zach Lewis and District 13-3A Tournament MVP Taelyr Gatlin in disposing of the Liberty Tech Crusaders 60-34.
In two tournament games the Cardinals held Liberty and the Munford Cougars to 69 points while scoring 113 to claim the league championship. Brighton will host a First Round Region 7-3A Saturday night at 7 p.m. against District 14-3A’s Arlington Tigers.
“It’s more so them understanding it’s going to take a team effort and everybody is going to have to be on the same page,” Brighton Head Coach Stan Gatlin said of his team’s tournament performances. “They understand it’s going to be their last chance to get whatever they’re going to get.”
The Brighton seniors are Gatlin, Alston, Lewis and Lance West. The Big Three have been taking the court under the guidance of Coach Gatlin for four seasons. Last year the trio was vital in the Cardinals reaching Sub-State for the first time.
Taelyr repeated as league regular-season MVP leading the Cardinals to the best District 13-3A record heading into the tournament
“Taelyr had really responded tremendously to constructive criticism,” Coach Gatlin said. “He has displayed great leadership and he’s not forcing anything out there. Like last night, he didn’t take a shot in the first quarter. He was just controlling the tempo and making sure everybody was in the right spots.”
In the right spot often was Lewis, who poured in 21 points to lead the Cardinals. Lewis was also effective on the boards alongside Alston. Alston added 12 points in the win over Liberty.
Gatlin also reached double digits with 13 points. The trio was named to the All-Tournament team along with teammate Jordan Johnson. The junior forward earned his spot with defense.
“Jordan Johnson did a great job on defense and locked down the Crusaders best offensive threat holding him to 2 points in the second half,” Coach Gatlin noted.
Gatlin said Johnson and other Cardinals like Trey Lemons, Anthony Smith and All-District guard Marteze Logan will have to continue to contribute in order for Brighton to return to Sub-State.
Gatlin has a State Tournament appearance on his resume’ from 2008, guiding the Millington Lady Trojans to the Class 3A Tournament. The Lady Trojans were runner-ups using defense to reach the final game of the year.
“It remains me a lot of the Millington team I had when we didn’t allow a team to get over 25 or 30,” Gatlin recalled. “That’s how I need my guys playing right now. They’ve taken ownership of being those guys.”
Brighton’s chance to reach the 2018 Class 3A State Tournament begins at home against Arlington.
“Take no prisoners,” Gatlin said. “Every team that we play is going to be good. It’s down to the last 64 teams. Every team left can beat us. That’s the mentality we have to have. We can’t take anybody lightly. We have to come out swinging. We have to go down swinging. No matter what, we’ll be swinging.
“We can beat any team left,” he added. “They tie their shoes like we tie ours. We have to that mentality anybody who steps on our home court, especially, is going to have a tough time.”
Time is running out for Gatlin to coach his historic senior class. And the veteran coach summarized their final district title as redemption.
“This is extremely special because we started off losing the first district game to Liberty,” he said. “Then to have to beat them for the championship and how we beat them was extremely special.
When we beat them at home it was by only 6,” Gatlin concluded. “But if you give me a day or two to concentrate on one team, my guys get a chance to focus as well, give a great advantage to us. So for us to have this opportunity to play against that team again and be dominating is extremely special. And this is the first time in school history we have back to back district tournament titles. We etched our names in history and nobody can take that from us.”
REGION 7-3A PAIRING
Friday night is the beginning of Girls Region 7-3A Tournament action with Munford hosting a District 14-3A opponent. Meanwhile the Brighton Lady Cardinals will travel that night to a District 14-3A higher seed. Games to tipoff at 7 p.m.
Saturday night is the start of the Boys Region 7-3A Tournament with Brighton hosting and the Munford Cougars making a trip to Shelby County for 7 p.m. tipoffs. All winners will advance to next week’s tournament site of Bolton High School.