Blount Press Row

Townsend in the House!

Renteria, Lady Tigers deliver inspiring tourney run

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Editor’s note: From the instant we learned of the season she’d had, Blount Press Row knew Townsend Elementary basketball player Skyler Renteria had to be the focus of the first story we published. We hope her story of hanging in there one day becomes ours.

They went home in the first round last year.

Most felt a similar finish awaited tiny Townsend Elementary when the Blount County Elementary Basketball Tournament tipped off last Thursday at Heritage Middle School. The Lady Tigers finished the regular season at 3-5 and entered as the tournament’s No. 11 seed.

A week later, Townsend is still around. The Lady Tigers didn’t make it all the way to tonight’s championship game. Maryville Christian School phenom Rachel Reid was a little too much, pacing the Lady Eagles to a 17-15, overtime win in Thursday night’s National Conference semifinals.

Townsend will meet Middlesettlements in the third-place game this afternoon at 4:15, with Maryville Christian vying with newcomer Prospect Elementary for the title at 6:45.

There were tears in the locker room afterward, Townsend coach Lauren “Sparky” Bayne said, but they were short-lived. It’s been an amazing postseason run, she reminded them. Nobody expected the Lady Tigers to get this far. Townsend has only 140 students, kindergarten through sixth grade, compared to Prospect’s more than 300.

No magic pep talk set off Townsend’s run, Bayne said. “I said, ‘I don’t care if you win a game,'” she said. “‘Just get out there and do your best and play hard, play tough and play fair.'”

Townsend had a secret weapon no one knew about prior to the tournament, perhaps not even the secret weapon herself. In Monday’s quarterfinal win over Walland, Skyler Renteria had the kind of breakout game that can last a lifetime.

Renteria was one of those players who’d hustled all season, Bayne said, but she wouldn’t shoot the ball. She entered the tournament without scoring a single point all season.

Against Walland, Renteria finally let it rip. Swish! She hit her first shot.

Then, she hit another one. And then another one.

By the end of the game, she’d scored her first six points of the season and collected several key rebounds, and Townsend had punched its ticket to the semifinals.

“To see that is the best part of coaching,” Bayne said. She didn’t do anything special to find her stroke, Renteria said. She didn’t get in the weight room and bulk up. The answer, she said, to the amusement of both her coach and teammates alike, was actually quite simple.

“I just felt like I could make a shot if someone passed me the ball,” Renteria said. “Finally, someone passed me the ball.”

The reason Thursday’s loss to Maryville Christian was more sweet than bitter had everything to do with their regular season meeting, Bayne said. Reid, a fifth-grader with the off-the-dribble game of a high school freshman, drove the Lady Eagles to a decisive win in that meeting. She put on a show Thursday, too, scoring 15 of Maryville Christian’s 17 points on a mix of jump shots and driving runners. This time, though, Townsend got stuck in right from the start.

Two more heroes, forwards Sarah Tozzi and Raven Myers, emerged as the Lady Tigers countered Reid’s shooting with better rebounding and a zone defense to keep the ball away from the rest of the Lady Eagles. They would force Reid to do it all, excepting the game-winning shot, and a back-and-forth contest never saw either team lead by more than two points.

“I was thinking, ‘It’s either us or them,'” Tozzi said. “I knew we had a chance.”

Tozzi tied the game for Townsend with just over a minute remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime. Just as Renteria had come up big in Monday’s win over Walland, however, Maryville Christian would see a once unknown step forward for the game’s biggest basket.

Reid put Maryville Christian ahead, 15-13, with a steal and breakaway basket with two minutes remaining. After a Townsend miss, the Lady Eagle star drove the lane and dished the ball to an open Hannah Moberg, who buried a short bank shot for a four-point margin with 21 seconds to play. Myers quickly got Townsend back within two with a pair clutch free throws with 17 seconds left. One more rally would prove one too many, however, Reid dribbling away the final seconds in a weaving dash as the horn sounded.

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