Warriors seize share of Watauga title

By Marvin Birchfield
There was a lot riding for Happy Valley in its matchup with rival Hampton, as the Bulldogs stood between them and a chance to make the claim of being the Watauga Conference co-champions.
On Thursday at VanHuss-White Gym, the Warriors got off to a running start and finished the night tied with Volunteer for first place on the season, after defeating Hampton in a 54-45 final.
Happy Valley came out to dominate the first half of action, exploding to a 36-15 lead by intermission.
"We played a heck of a ball game the first half and got to running on them and got them down," said Happy Valley coach Charlie Bayless. "We ran it well the first half, but we couldn't the second half. They shot the ball well.
"If it wasn't for running and shooting the ball well at the start, then it would have been a different ball game."
The Warriors opened with a 20-4 run, as an Alex Carroll slam on a missed shot and steal from Chris Rutledge for a three-point play sparked the crowd.
A basket down low plus the foul from Shane Campbell, and a couple of free throws by Travis Grindstaff helped the 'Dogs pull within eleven by the end of the period.
The Warriors carried their momentum over into the second period with a three-point field-goal by Rutledge, and shot along the baseline from Ryan Toney.
Things continued to fall apart for Hampton in the first half, as Campbell was hit with a technical after making a basket inside.
The 'Dogs put up just six points in the entire second period, with the Warrior lead growing to as many as 23 points when John Bulla converted a lay-up off the fast break.
"We're co-champions now, and it's real good for these kids because they're young, and especially for both Whaley and Maddox," said Bayless. "We'll get a bye in the first round of the district tournament now, and I didn't think we had a chance the first of the year, but these are some good athletes and kids here."
Happy Valley grabbed the first score of the second half with a shot inside from Tim Whaley, but the 'Dogs were not about to go without putting up a good fight.
Hampton drained a total of six three-point basket, as both Zack Trivette and Adam Miller knocked down three apiece.
Miller led the Bulldogs in scoring on the night, as he poured in 11 points, while Trivette finished with nine.
"We shot the eyes out of it the second half, but I thought we had better looks in the first half," said Hampton coach Bud Hazelwood. "I think all of them were looking out of the corner of their eyes for Alex."
By the end of the third period, Hampton had gotten itself back into the contest by hitting the outside jumper, and it continued cutting into the lead the final period.
A shot down low from Campbell and basket underneath from Jacob Culler cut the lead to 44-39 with 6:20 left in regulation.
"It was the tale of two halves, and if we'd have shot like we did in the second half, then we might have beat them," said Hazelwood. "I thought we outplayed them the second half, but we just don't match up well with Happy Valley.
"I'm proud that we didn't quit, and maybe we can build on the way we played in second half going into the tournament."
With the Warriors looking for a much-needed basket, they elected to go down to the low post, with Whaley finding success.
What can be said more about the character of Whaley? Not only did he look like a Warrior who had been in an intense battle by night's end, but he also played like one by leading his team to victory.
A strong move inside sent Whaley to the free-throw line, where he sank both shots, and then a fake, spin, and drive by the senior led to another score, sending the Warriors on an 8-2 run.
"I'm a senior and I've got to go out and play like it's my last game, so it's great we've become co-champions with Volunteer," said Whaley. "Our last three years we won a total of 20 games, but it was like football, where we finished 9-2. We said we were going to come out and run the ball, so it's paid off for us."
Unfortunately, Whaley had to leave the game after making the drive, because of an elbow he caught above his right eye, which caused a gash.
"Down low we battled hard, and I know he didn't mean to elbow me on purpose, but it's just one of those things where you go out and play hard to get the victory," said Whaley. "We've won the last six games, and we want to win the district also, so we just have to go out there and play our butts off."
Whaley had to sit out for two minutes to get a bandage put over the wound, and then he was back out there busting his tail once again.
Hampton was unable to make a rally in the final minutes, as Happy Valley came back from their worst league record last year to a share of first place this season.
"It's been a great run and there's still a half of season to go," said Bayless. "This season isn't over yet, for another new season starts tournament time."
This becomes the Warriors first conference championship since the 1997-98 seasons.