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Who Do You Guard?

MVP Upchurch only the start in defending top-seed Rebels
Maryville sophomore Easton Upchurch, the District 4AAA Player of the Year, puts up a shot at Bearden recently. Photos by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Tristan Upchurch drives the baseline against Hardin Valley.

Tristan Upchurch drives the baseline against Hardin Valley.

The behind-the-back, between-the-legs dribble to split a double team against Fulton?

The hanging, left-hand layup on a drive up baseline in the same game?

The no-look pass at Bearden?

Maryville junior Tristan Upchurch had a tough time picking a favorite among several highlight moves his kid brother, Rebel sophomore Easton Upchurch, has uncorked this season.

“I don’t know,” Tristan said. “There’s been some stuff.”

There’s likely to be more when the top-seed Rebels make their postseason debut tonight at Maryville’s James Campbell Gymnasium.

Maryville (22-5) meets Heritage (22-11) at 7:30 in the first of two District 4AAA semifinals. Second seed and state No. 2-ranked Bearden (26-2) follows against Lenoir City (17-12) at 9.

The consolation and championship games are scheduled for Tuesday at 6 and 7:30, respectively.

Easton Upchurch, the District 4AAA Player of the Year, is a big part of the reason the Rebels have proven a difficult team to defend this season. The smooth, 6-foot-1 guard paces Maryville with a 14.2 points per game scoring average.

He’s knocking down 48 percent of his shots from the floor, 41 percent from 3-point range, all while snaring 5.1 rebounds per game.

That’s getting it done.

Maryville's Mark Eldridge was named district coach of the year.

Maryville’s Mark Eldridge was named district coach of the year.

Equally adept in the passing game, Easton’s no-look, behind-the-back feed at Bearden was converted at the basket by Tristan to finish a fast break.

“I pretty much know where he’s going to be all the time,” Easton said. “It’s probably the brother thing.”

Maryville’s 64-56 win at Bearden on the final night of the district schedule brought with it the league title.

A big part of the reason he’s had such a breakout season is the team around him, Easton said.

“We all play well together,” he said. “They’re all good guys with no selfishness whatsoever.”

He isn’t just being nice. If you don’t play good perimeter defense, these Rebels will light you up.

Six players are shoot better than 36 percent from 3. Jake Headrick (48 percent), Andrew Petree (46), Easton (41) and Dalton Price (38) headline a bevy of deep shooters.

Sophomore T.D. Blackmon, 37 percent from 3, is also awfully tough off the drive.

In forwards Bryce Miller and Spencer Low, Maryville has built a dominant post game.

Jake Headrick sizes up a free throw.

Jake Headrick sizes up a free throw.

“One thing we do is shoot it well,” Maryville coach Mark Eldridge, the District 4AAA Coach of the Year, said.

Making it all go is Tristan Upchurch, the Rebel point guard and best on-ball defender.

“Tristan sets the tone for us defensively,” Eldridge said. “He wants to guard the best player, and, most of the time, he does. He makes everyone better.”

It’s a role he relishes, Tristan said.

“I try to be a leader,” he said. “I want to effect the tone on defense, lead on offense and be responsible for my team when they’re down.”

Easton was notified he’d been selected the district’s player of the year during the Rebels regular season final with Alcoa a week ago.

“Coach subbed me out and said, ‘You’ve got MVP of the district,’” he said. “It showed hard work pays off.”

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