The Hayesville Yellow Jackets’ Smoky Mountain Conference tournament championship had a little extra meaning. Head coach Mike Cottrell and his brigade faced off with Cherokee Wednesday, Feb. 18 in the final round of the tournament held in Rosman. The Braves ended the regular season by giving the Jackets their only conference loss, but Hayesville avenged the loss in a big way, winning the game 62-47 and taking the first place trophy. That set the Jackets up to host Swain County Tuesday, Feb. 25 in the first round of the state tournament. The Maroon Devils kept things close early but Hayesville eventually pulled away with a 68-48 victory.
It was clear early on that Cherokee wanted to spoil the Jackets’ hopes of a conference championship sweep. The Braves’ offense clicked quickly for 17 first-quarter points. Hayesville kept pace, exploiting gaps in Cherokee’s defense for 16 points of their own. Scoring cooled a bit in the second quarter with the Jackets taking the stanza 11-9 to earn a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Momentum stayed with Hayesville in the third quarter. On offense, the Jackets used good ball movement to create open looks. Sophomore point guard Kolbe Ashe managed to sink a 3-pointer along with another basket inside the arch. Big Jake McTaggart was able to use his size for a pair of buckets and drew contact, which put him at the line for 2 additional points. Hayden McClure’s quick hands were key for Hayesville’s defense in the quarter, forcing turnovers and errors by the Braves. The quarter ended with the Jackets leading 44-37.
Questionable calls or lack thereof stirred up fan bases in the fourth quarter but as far as on-court play, Hayesville showed no sign of letting up. As time ticked down and so too did Cherokee’s intensity. The Jackets out scored their opponent 18-10 in the final quarter to finish off the 62-47 win and laid claim to the championship trophy.
Heading into the first round game against Swain, Hayesville’s head coach Mike Cottrell said, “This will be our fourth game against them and it’s hard to beat any team four times, but it’s a really tough task to beat a team like Swain four times.” After the opening tip, the Maroon Devils showed why they shouldn’t be overlooked. After Hayesville built a lead early, Swain came roaring back to grab the advantage. Un-rattled, the Jackets kept chipping away and by the end of the first, led 17-11. McClure and Brady Shook were the stars of the quarter with 6 points each.
McClure kept the hot hand in the second quarter with 6 additional points and McTaggart had 6 of his own. Shook’s bucket gave the Jackets 14 points before the half, 2 more than Swain’s total in the stanza.
The scoring pendulum continued on the upswing for the Jackets in the third quarter as the Devils struggled to contain McTaggart. The sophomore not only made shots under the basket, he also made Swain pay by going 4-5 at the free throw line. Hayesville took the quarter 18-15, which gave them a 49-38 lead.
In the fourth, the Yellow Jackets delighted their fans with an offensive show. Ashe took advantage of gaps in Swain’s defense with drives to the basket for 6 points in the stanza. In total, Hayesville put up 19 additional points to ensure the 68-48 win.
Jacket Nation can support the team at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27 as they host Pine Lake Prep in the second round.
Leaders vs Cherokee
Jake McTaggart: 18 points
Hayden McClure: 14 points
Kolbe Ashe: 13 points
Brady Shook:8 points
Leaders vs Swain
Jake McTaggart: 18 points
Hayden McClure: 16 points
Kolbe Ashe: 12 points
Brady Shook: 10 points