Sports

January 3, 2013

Winter heat

Mountaineers area’s best on court after fiery first half

Some area high school students will return to class today for the second semester of their academic year.

For local prep basketball teams, the season’s biggest tests also remain.

Several area boys and girls programs have enjoyed strong first halves during the 2012-13 schedule, but North Murray’s boys stand out even in that top group with a 12-1 start in their first season under coach Tim Ellis. The Mountaineers are riding an 11-game winning streak that includes holiday tournament titles at their own Mistletoe Madness and LaFayette’s Comcast Christmas Classic.

North Murray beat Gilmer 54-40 and Dalton 56-43, respectively, for those titles before and after Christmas. Ellis believes the Mountaineers’ ability to win several times in the span of a few days bodes well for the postseason, starting with the Region 5-3A tournament next month. There, the Mountaineers will shoot for at least a top-four finish, which would grant them a second straight state tournament berth.

“That was one of the things I talked to the boys about, was how important it is to be in shape to win games in back-to-back-to-back nights,” Ellis said. “We played a lot of games over the holidays, but that will be a big benefit when you are looking at the playoffs, when you have to be able to bring your best game night after night to make state.”

This is just the third varsity season for North Murray. But with a core group of players who have been at least part-time starters since they were underclassmen, the Mountaineers were expected to be one of the area’s top teams this season, and they have not disappointed. Their only defeat was a last-second 69-67 loss to Class 6A’s Meadowcreek on Nov. 23 at the Southeast Thanksgiving Hoopfest.

Senior center Zach Vess — a two-time selection to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Basketball Team — is again the team’s leading scorer, but North Murray has proven to be much more than just Vess and Co. In Saturday’s win against Dalton, four different North Murray players scored in double figures.

“Our balance has been a big strength,” Ellis said. “We know people are going to try to take away Zach in the middle, and that means others are going to have to make shots to open things up. We’ve been able to do that.”

Seniors Austen Horn and Brady Swilling have taken on a big share of the scoring load, while Ellis credits point guard Zach Sanford, another senior, with making the biggest developmental leap this season.

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