By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Brighton Cardinals Head Coach Stan Gatlin has a varsity roster featuring mostly freshmen.
Those freshmen are one of the best teams in West Tennessee against their peers. But when they join forces with the upperclassmen, they are enduring highs and lows.
“We have two seniors who play major minutes,” Gatlin noted. “We have just a couple of sophomores and three juniors. The rest of our team is ninth graders. I told them they have to learn how to build that continuity like Munford has. Those seniors have been playing together so long and know each other well.”
The veteran leadership of the Cougars came in handy Jan. 29 in the Brighton Gymnasium helping Munford outlast the Cardinals 51-45.
“I thought we defended really, really well until the last 4 minutes of the game,” Munford Head Coach Ryan Ross acknowledged. “It’s a little bit situational at that point because they’re going really fast. They are thinking score. Not only do they have to score, but they need to score quick.
“We have to adjust when that happens and be a little smarter that late in the game,” he added. “I don’t think it is an effort thing. It’s more about understanding you have to play with a real sense of urgency because not only do they have to score, but they have to score within seconds of getting the ball.”
Scoring was limited for most of the players on the court in the first half with Munford jumping out 24-14 by halftime. Cougar senior guard Kylan Cunningham had a groove in the first 16 minutes with 10 points. His teammate and fellow senior Landon Winters hit two early three-pointers in the first quarter.
The third quarter saw an offense spark for the Cardinals starting with junior forward Anthony Smith. He hit a basket in the paint to make the tally 24-16. Brighton went on an 8-1 run to cut the deficit to 25-22.
Cardinal senior Jordan Dowell hit two buckets including a floater in the lane. Then DJ Beard made shot to pull Brighton within three points of Munford.
Once against Cunningham came to the rescue to regain momentum for the Cougars by hitting a basket. Moments later TJ Tyus drained a triple giving Munford a 30-22 advantage.
Cunningham scored the next 4 points to give the Cougars a 34-22 lead. Kyree Cunningham hit a bucket at the end of the period to make the score 36-22.
Brighton outscored Munford 23-15 in the final 8 minutes with Curtavious Holmes, Martez Logan, Darrien Lewis and TJ Rivers contributing. But the Cougars made enough free throws down the stretch to earn the District 13-3A win.
“I thought our guys handled it well,” Ryan said. “We could have shot free throws better down the stretch. I thought our guys came in here and handled the environment really, really well. We played for each other as well as we have at any point this year.”
The win improved Munford to 3-2 in league play. Ryan said his team is almost where it needs to be to make a deep run in February.
“It’s just consistency,” he said. “It’s about doing it for four quarters. We’re close. We’re three and half, three and three-quarters. We’ve got to get it to four quarters.
“I think they’ve bought into it at practice,” Ryan concluded. “You’ve got to have full practices before you play full games. Continuing to do that everyday, once we get to being a team that plays four quarters, we’ll be tough to beat.”