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For the sixth consecutive year Shelby and Anderson counties will meet in the Boys’ 30th District Championship game.
Tonight’s game will tip-off at approximately 7:30, after the conclusion of the Spencer/Anderson girls’ game.
Though the Rockets have won four of the past five – and gone on to capture two 8th Region titles in that time – this year looks to be Anderson County’s best chance to win.
The Bearcats (20-5) are the top-ranked team in the region, have won 11 of their past 12 games and beat the Rockets, 46-42, on this same court Jan. 3.
However, a quick glance at last season will tell you nothing holds to form in this rivalry.
Last year Anderson County had won 14 of 15 heading into the district championship, was the top-ranked team in the 8th Region and had won at Shelby County, 60-53, in early January.
Last year’s Rocket squad had won six of eight going into the game, after struggling through a 3-6 January. This year the Rockets are on a seven-game winning streak after a 1-8 January.
Though the seasons look eerily similar, it’s a different year.
“We’re a much different club, and so is Anderson County,” SCHS Coach Mike Clark said.
Though several SCHS players are different, the key to stopping Anderson County is the same as last year: slow down guard C.J. Penny and forward Jacob Russell.
Penny, the No. 1-ranked player in the 8th Region, leads the Bearcats with 22.7 points and 11.1 rebounds. And if he’s Batman, then Russell is his Robin, a forward who averages 15.8 points and a whisker under a double-double with 9.8 rebounds.
“You have to slow those two down – if there’s even a way to do that – to be successful against Anderson County,” Clark said. “You can’t let those two beat you physically on the boards and especially on rebounds of missed free throws. They got about three or four offensive rebounds off of missed free throws [in January], and that really cost us.”
The Rockets will counter with Donovan Johnson’s 16 points and nine rebounds per game and Boomer Beckley's 11.7 ppg. and Cache Tomlinson's 10 ppg.
In January, the Rockets lost Tomlinson in the second quarter to an ankle injury, and his presence could make a big difference. Plus, Johnson has been on a tear through the end of the regular season, averaging nearly 23 points a game through the end of the season. He scored 16 in just three quarters during the Rockets’ triumph Wednesday.
“This [tonight] is going to be a real test and a challenge for both teams,” Clark said. “Neither team played at a very high level in January, but I think this [tonight’s] game will be quite a different show.”