By Thomas Sellers Jr.
COLLIERVILLE — Collierville’s Dragon Fire Tournament has developed a reputation for bringing some of the best teams from across the Mid-South to the hardwood to close out the calendar year.
The Brighton Lady Cardinals finally earned a spot among the 16 teams to debut Dec. 26 in the prestigious event against the St. Agnes Stars. The Lady Cardinals overcame a slow start in the day one matchup to prevail 64-44.
Brighton Head Coach David Wampler and his players are new to the environment of the Dragon Fire Tournament like the new surroundings of the Collierville High School Gymnasium. When the tournament was played the previous 17 years in the old CHS Gymnasium, now Brighton assistant coach Stan Gatlin won the tournament as the leader of the Millington Lady Trojans.
“He’s won it a few times,” Wampler said. “He talked about how tough it is to win it all. Lately we’ve been real inconsistent. This is a good win. Whenever you win by 20 points, it’s a good win. We just right now, we have lowes. We’ll look great for three minutes. Then it’s like we get ‘not entertained.’ We go through three or four minutes of just sloppy. We’re throwing the ball around, not playing defense.”
Brighton hit a low in the opening minutes against St. Agnes only leading 8-7 midway through the first quarter. Then the Lady Cardinals took flight with a 7-3 run to close out the period.
The Stars jumped ahead 10-8 courtesy of a Brali Simmons three-pointer. Deadlock at 10-10, Brighton’s T. Brown answered back with a triple of her own to give the Lady Cardinals the advantage for good. Sylvia “Bug” Jones hit a bucket to end the first quarter with Brighton ahead 15-10.
The second quarter belonged to the Lady Cardinals outscoring St. Agnes 19-13 sparked by a Haley Simpson bucket. Wampler said he liked the signs he saw from his post players like Simpson, MG Smith, Cor’Tayza Flowers and Keyuanna Dyson.
After another Simpson bucket made the score 19-12, Smith stepped outside and drilled a triple to make the tally 22-15.
Simmons paced the Stars throughout the second quarter with 8 points. She finished the game with 20 points.
But the Lady Cardinals got a variety of points from players like Brown, Jones and Albanie Dunn. Brown three-pointer late in the first half made the score 34-19. Brighton was ahead 34-23 at the break.
The Lady Cardinals created more separation in the third quarter behind baskets from Simpson and Smith. Brighton was well on its way toward win No. 13 on the season when Smith scored on a set-play to make the score 44-25.
“I’m very proud of the fact we’re not 13-1 — the fact of them winning games,” Wampler said. “I’m not proud of their execution. When we get to Hardin County, Dyer County and Munford in league, then Covington the next time, we’re pretty gifted athletic. But many of times we will convert back to our old ways and stop executing.
“We’ll set up a play and execute, we making a layup,” he added. “Then next time down we’re jacking up a shot. We’re screaming set up a play, set up a play. We have to mature to the point that we execute our plays as well as we play with our abilities. Our abilities, ball handling, shooting and other things have improved. We spent years on that stuff. We’re strong ball handling and skilled with the ball.”
The Brighton 47-25 lead from the third quarter gave Wampler a chance to play younger players. Brown scored 5 points in the final period to lead the Lady Cardinals with 19 points.
Wampler said he was glad to win his debut in the Dragon Fire and hope the overall experience will benefit his girls heading into district play in 2019.
“We have to get consistent as we take on our future competition,” he concluded. “If we don’t execute, it’s going to come back to bite us.”