During a season in which they never tasted defeat, the Wallins Purple Devils saved their best for last.
The Devils had to play well to hold off a valiant upset bid by their top rival this season, edging Rosspoint 51-46 in the seventh- and eighth-grade county tournament championship game on Friday at James A. Cawood Elementary School.
Wallins completed a perfect season at 21-0 in beating Rosspoint for the fourth time this season, fulfilling a goal set when the season began.
“We wanted to be undefeated county champs. We try to set goals at the beginning of the year, and this was what we wanted,” said Wallins coach Stan Nicely.
The final win of the season did not come easy as Rosspoint, with five seventh-graders in its starting lineup, made numerous runs before Wallins finally put the game away on the closing seconds.
“(Rosspoint coach) Hobie (Boggs) does a great job with those kids, and we knew it would be a tough game,” Nicely said. “We felt we were the better team coming in, but we knew Rosspoint would play the game of their lives, because they always do. Josh Turner was awesome. Hunter (Helton) had some foul problems and we were able to take advantage with Elisha on the post.”
Smallwood, Wallins’ athletic 6-foot-2 eighth-grade center, was all but unstoppable around the basket as he finished with a team-high 17 points.
“He’s a man out here,” Nicely said. “If Elisha can keep his emotions under control, he’s hard to stop. I don’t know that anybody in the county can shut him down. We wanted him to keep his composure and stay cool, and he did tonight and that made the difference.”
Alex Nantz also had a big game for the Devils with 14 points.
Rosspoint (14-6) was led by guards Matt Brown and Josh Turner with 19 and 14 points, respectively.
Turner sparked a late run by the Wildcats when it appeared Wallins had the game locked up with a 49-42 lead and only 1:35 left after a basket by Devin Eldridge. Turner started the comeback with a steal and layup, then followed with a running jumper in the lane to cut the deficit to three.
Rosspoint had a chance to get closer after a Wallins miss at the free throw line, but the Wildcats were unable to convert. Two free throws by Nantz with 21 seconds left closed the scoring.
Wallins raced to an early lead behind Smallwood, who scored inside off a pass from Taylor Spurlock to begin the game, then added a basket on the offensive glass. Tyler Cole’s jumper pushed the Devils’ lead to 6-0.
Helton and Matt Brown broke the early drought for Rosspoint, and when Turner hit a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the quarter, the Cats had pulled within three. Two free throws by Hunter Blevins to close the period gave Wallins a 14-9 lead.
Turner’s two free throws pulled Rosspoint within three, but Wallins responded with a 6-0 run on a 3-pointer by Eldridge, a basket by Smallwood and a free throw by Nantz to go up 24-13.
Rosspoint responded once again as Brown hit a 3-pointer, then scored off a pass from Turner to cut the deficit to 27-24 at halftime.
Brown hit a jumper, then a 3-pointer from the corner to pull Rosspoint within one. Two straight baskets by Nantz pushed the lead back to five. A nice driving floater by Turner cut the deficit to two before Smallwood took over again with two straight baskets to help the Devils take a 39-35 lead into the final period.
With Smallwood, Spurlock and several other key players returning from last year, the Devils entered the season as the county favorite, but Nicely said his Devils weren’t bothered by the expectations.
“I don’t know if the kids feel it that much, but I do,” Nicely said. “But I’d rather go in as the favorite as not. The kids just came in and worked hard. You’d never know by talking to them that they were any better than anybody else. I’m sure it was a fun game to watch, but I’m glad to get it over with.”
Wallins (51) — Elisha Smallwood 17, Taylor Spurlock 4, Devin Eldridge 7, Tyler Cole 9, Alex Nantz 14.
Rosspoint (46) — Josh Turner 14, Hunter Helton 9, Matt Brown 19, Hunter Blevins 4.
Cumberland captured third place with a 41-38 victory over James A. Cawood. The lead changed hands several times in the fourth quarter before the Skins were able to secure the win.
Dakota Shepherd scored 27 to lead the Redskins.
Jay Harris led the Trojans with 23 points. Jerry Elliott added 11.
Cumberland (41) — Dylan Robinson 6, Josh Swanner 6, Michael Golden 2, Dakota Shepherd 27.
James A. Cawood (38) — Jay Harris 23, Jerry Elliott 11, Jordan Smith 4.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134