The Cougars hadn’t lost to a Class A team this year. But Watertown served notice this might be a different night, a notice, which got stronger as the night went along.
“We were the only team in four years that beat Goodpasture,” Watertown coach Matt Bradshaw said after his Purple Tigers won their third district title of the decade after winning none since the 1930s. “I told our guys this isn’t a David vs. a Goliath. We’re just going to go out and play our game. We changed some stuff up from what we did the first two times, made some adjustments, and the kids executed. That’s the bottom line. You can make all the adjustments you want to in the world, but I’m proud of these kids. I asked them to do something we hadn’t done all year, and that was go out and play half-court man. We haven’t half-court-manned a single team all year long. I asked them to do it, and they did a fantastic job of it.”
Because the Tigers hadn’t played that defense, there was no video for Goodpasture to see. The sudden change sent the Cougars reeling as Watertown rallied from an early deficit to lead 15-14 at the first-quarter break, 20-25 at halftime and 46-30 during the third quarter before Goodpasture could regroup.
“There wasn’t a single tape of it, I can promise you that,” Bradshaw said. “The kids executed. I asked them to rebound. I asked them to block out. They’re pound-for-pound bigger than us across the board. I told them before the game the team with the most heart that wants to go win is going to win.”
Goodpasture rallied to a 56-56 tie on a three-pointer by Spencer Smith with three minutes to play. But Vonte Bates’ reverse layup at 2:28 put the Purple Tigers back in front, and a three-pointer by tournament most valuable player Seth Price put the Cougars behind the eight-ball.
“Our kids remembered last year,” Bradshaw said. “Our kids had beaten them in the regular season [twice], and they came out here [at Gordonsville] and stunned us in the tournament. Our kids didn’t forget that. That’s something we’ve talked about all week long, and that’s something we reiterated before we went in [Saturday night]. We know how this feels, and if you want to change how this feels, then you go out and execute and do it.”
Price poured in 21 points and Austin Lasater 18 as each hit four three-pointers. Ty Love totaled 10 points and nine rebounds while Preston Tomlinson added eight points and five assist, Bates six points and Heath Price two points, five assists and three steals. Lasater also had three thefts.
Smith sank five triples as part of his 23 points while Tripp McEachern 14, including a pair of threes, for the Cougars, who fell to 24-3.
Tomlinson, Lasater, Ty Love and Heath Price joined Seth Price on the all-tournament team. Love, Tomlinson, Lasater were also named all-district while Seth Price repeated as most valuable player.
It is the final go-around for the nucleus of teams in 8-A. Watertown is moving up to Class AA. Gordonsville, Trousdale County and Red Boiling Springs will move east to join their Region 4 rivals in what will become District 6-A. Goodpasture will join former 8-A member Friendship Christian in Division II. Since at least the 1980s (in 6-A until 1997), Watertown, Gordonsville and Trousdale had battled on the hardwood, as had FCS until it went D-II four years ago. RBS moved over from 7-A eight years ago.
There will be a District 8-A in the future, but with a different batch of schools. The Purple Tigers’ title marks the end of an era.
“We’re going to try to keep our regular rivalries with those teams as far as scheduling goes,” Bradshaw said. “It’s sad. It’s the only district I’ve ever coached in as a head coach [having coached at Friendship after the Lebanon High grad served as an assistant at his alma mater in 7-AAA under current county mayor Randall Hutto]. That’s a little sad for me. The teams here are great.
“But this is probably the best way to close it out if you’re going to close it out.”
Watertown will have a week to savor the championship and its 23-6 record. But the region will begin at 7 p.m. next Saturday at satellite locations before the semifinals move to Watertown next week. The rocking atmosphere is often missing at a home site in the opening round of a region in which there is just one game. And there’s the natural letdown from the emotional high as well.
“This group remembers the last two years when we’ve been bounced from the first round of the region,” Bradshaw said. “We wanted to win tonight, but I promise you this group remembers last year [a home loss to Pickett County]. We’ve been really building for that game. I hope we come out ready to play. I think we will. I felt win, lose or draw [Saturday night], we were ready and prepared to play.”