KNOXVILLE — No District 4-AAA basketball game is easy, but for the Bearden High School boys basketball team Friday’s victory over rival Knoxville West proved surprisingly difficult to secure.
The Bulldogs would prevail and extend their winning streak to 12 games, doing so at BHS Jan. 17, but the Runnin’ Rebels certainly didn’t go quietly.
“When we scouted them and saw film on them, they didn’t really shoot a high percentage,” Bearden head coach Jeremy Parrott said after his team captured a 69-60 victory at home. “But this just shows that you have to play, coach and get through the game that you’re playing on that night.”
The Rebels, who had a modest three-game winning streak entering action Friday night, never led against Bearden (15-6 overall, 6-1in the district) but responded to every punch the Bulldogs threw their way.
West (5-12, 3-4) has one of the youngest teams in Knox County, but the Rebels have made great strides from where they started their season.
“I knew coming into the season that this was going to be a process,” West head coach Chris Kesler said. “We didn’t have any varsity players back from last year, so we knew that we were just going to have to trust the process.”
The Rebels are certainly moving in the right direction, but the Bulldogs also have made great strides as they sit in second place in the league standings.
“We’re second in the conference and that’s big for these guys,” said Parrott, who guided Bearden to the Class AAA state championship last season. “We lost all of our starters from last year.
“I’m proud of these guys; West is a big rival for us. These guys drive me bananas sometimes, but I’m really proud of them and what they’ve done this year.”
Parrott certainly had to be proud of the way his squad gutted this one out. Bearden led by eight points at several points in the contest. But the defending state champs couldn’t really pull away until they made their free throws late in the fourth quarter.
Junior A.J. Pruitt gave the Bulldogs an early spark as he scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half. He also knocked down a pair of late foul shots to help BHS hang on and seal a hard-fought victory.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a dogfight,” Pruitt said. “We knew that because it was a district game at home but for us, it was about doing the little things late. It was about getting the 50/50 balls and rebounding late when it mattered.”
Bearden darted to a 10-2 lead early, but the Rebels bounced back to pull to within 16-13 by the end of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs, who had a 51-39 advantage heading to the final frame, got a game-high 23 points from Tyler Nordin. Cahlib Edwards scored 14 and Izaiha Bredwood had nine.
West, which trailed 32-27 at halftime, was led by Michael Davis’ 21 points. Baker Dance, scored 12, while Houston Dyer finished with 10.