Commanders win district opener

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By Zack Penalva

It was a strong statement from the Commanders as they defeated 19th district foe Thomas Nelson 66-50 Friday night.

The Generals came into the game with a lot of momentum; they had opened the season with a 3-0 record that included wins over Nelson County and Bethlehem, but that momentum didn’t carry them any further.
From the opening tip-off, Washington County looked to control the flow of the game. The Commanders’ size advantage provided plenty of favorable matchups.
“We took it inside, and it was able to pay off for us,” said head coach Bernard Smalley about his team’s strategy on offense.  “I thought Jake [Yates] had a heck of a game tonight. He was the biggest man on the court, and he played well for us.”

Yates put on his best performance of the season so far, ending the night with a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds. The team’s dominance on the glass translated to dominance on the scoreboard as well. Washington County outrebounded Thomas Nelson 48-28 on the night. The rebounds were especially valuable in the first quarter, as neither team was able to get shots to fall comfortably. Thomas Nelson came into Friday night’s contest averaging 20 three-point attempts per game. The Generals kept up that volume against Washington County, but completely lacked for efficiency; they were 4-for-30 from behind the arc. Smalley chalked that up to his team’s ability to close down the shooters.

“In order for us to win the 19th district, we’ve got to play defense,” he said. “I think we’re getting better, and our half-court defense is getting better. We’re making progress.”

The Commanders all but abandoned their three-point shot after realizing how dominant they could be on the interior. Cameron Willis hit Washington County’s only triple on a buzzer beater at the end of the third quarter. Willis thrashed the Generals in the paint throughout the night, often getting fouled and sent to the line in the process. The senior shot a perfect 10-for-10 at the stripe and ended the game with a team-high 23 points. Teammates Devin Hurst (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Drew Yates (10 points, 10 rebounds) chipped in with double-doubles as well.

Hurst’s effort was especially impressive as he struggled to score from the field all night. Tenacious rebounding on both ends of the floor was complimented by an ability to draw fouls. One sequence in the third quarter saw him collect two offensive rebounds before getting sent to the line for two shots. He scored eight of his points at the free throw line.

This Friday night will be another district matchup for Washington County, as the Commanders host the Bethlehem Eagles. The two teams met three times last year, including the opening round of the district tournament.

Washington County will be looking to avenge the 59-56 loss the Eagles handed to them in that postseason game last season. Since graduating both of last year’s leading scorers, Bethlehem has struggled so far this season. The Eagles have lost five of their previous six games, with the one win coming against Nelson County.
Tip-off for Friday night is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. following the girls’ basketball game.