By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The squad led by Head Coach Cedric Anderson were greeted by a sea of Red, White and Blue Rebel faithful in the school lobby holding a tailgate for the first TRA Basketball team to host a TSSAA Division II-A Sub-State game.
The Quarterfinal matchup against the Grace Christian Academy Rams out of Knoxville would determine one of the final four spots at the State Tournament site next week on the campus of David Lipscomb.
Saturday’s game featured noisy stands, fast pace action and the Rams outlasting the Rebels 71-57 to advance to the State Semifinals.
When TRA made its historic run to the runner-up spot in the West Regionals, Anderson employed a full-court pressure attack with guards Andrew Anderson, Carter Weakley, Howard Gray and Tysen Banks.
But Banks suffered an injury near the conclusion the West Regional title game against Lausanne. The junior guard was DNP for the Grace showdown.
“It was major,” Coach Anderson noted. “You can’t put a number on it. You can’t be a word on it. There are so many adjectives to describe what he brings to the table. He is our motor defensively.
“He’s our captain in regards to communication out there on defense,” he added. “He does it all for us. He has the heart of a lion. He even tried to get out there today. He’s the guy who makes us go.”
With Banks out, Anderson had to make some adjustments that even had his freshman big man Alex Anderson bringing the ball up. The Rebels matched the Rams shot for shot in the first quarter behind Weakley hitting three triples.
Grace’s duo of CJ Gettelfinger and Grant Ledford were consistent from the field giving the Rams a 19-16 advantage early.
Gettelfinger continued his hot shooting in the second quarter with a jumper putting the Rams up 25-16. After an Andrew Anderson foul shot, Gettelfinger drilled a triple to make the score 28-17.
TRA’s offense was limited to a Gray bucket and foul shots. Alex made a layup late in the first half to make the score 34-23 in favor of Grace heading into the locker room.
In the third quarter the Rams featured the interior attack of Ryan Medders and senior big man Baylor Younker. The 6’8 forward altered TRA shots the entire game and clean up the mess for his team on the offensive end.
Younker had a follow slam in the first half to excite the Ram faithful in the packed TRA Gymnasium. And in the second half he made timely shots to keep Grace in control.
The Rams led 53-39 after three quarters of action. And in the fourth quarter both teams tallied 18 points. Grace was heading to the next round and the Rebels saw an end to a magical season. The defeat marked the end of the Rebel careers of Parker Heavener and Weakley.
“Last year was the first step in taking a leap of faith to believe TRA had the opportunity,” Coach Anderson said. “And the individuals that we have here received those guys and made an opportunity for the next guys who are to come. This is the next step. Now next year, we knocked on the door this year. Next year we’re knocking the door down.”
Weakley was one of the key returners from the 2016-17 Rebel team coming into this season. He was slated to be the go-to guy. But he eagerly accepted multiple roles on the 2017-18 team to have a chance to make history.
“This season will change the ways of TRA,’ Weakley said. “That was our goal and my senior year, it was the foundation. And I understood that. I bought in and we all bought in.
“I just hope all the teams the rest of the years that come will take in what we laid down here and the legacy this is about to come here,” he added. “It was a great season. We bought in. We didn’t make it as far as we wanted to. But we made it a lot further than some expected us to.”
Weakley said the group of newcomers balanced in well with Patrick Green,
Ethan Stewart, Jay Heigel, Austin Sanfratello, Seth Cannon, Ethan Petrowski and Ryan Knight.
“This isn’t a one vs. five sport,” he noted. “This is a five vs. five sport. You’ve got to have all five players buying to what is trying to be done. We brought in some great talent with Drew, Alex, Tysen, Howard and Kam. The list goes on and on.
“I had to find my role like we all did,” Weakley added. “I understand it was my senior year and I was supposed to be the man. But sometimes you have to step back and I bought in.”
Weakley leaves TRA with an All-Star football resume and All-Region basketball tenure. He has even medaled as a cross country runner during his team at the school.
“I hope they remember the hours of work I put in behind the scenes,” he concluded. “The hours I spent in the gym working out. The hours I spent running on my own time. The sweat and tears, it was more than just a game to me. That’s what I want them to remember. “
Coach Anderson said he will remember both of his seniors’ dedication to the team and the sacrifices Weakley had to make for the 2017-18 Rebels to take that next step.
“Carter was open to allowing these other guys to play a role in his senior season,” he said. “He had a special year. I told him, ‘You had a special year.’ One thing he can take is that he’s a part of the foundation.
“One thing about a foundation, it never goes away,” Anderson concluded. “When that structure is up, it’s the foundation holding it. He has laid the foundation for what is going to be special for TRA down the road.”