STORY BY CHIP CIRILLO | PHOTO BY DEB SCALLY
GALLATIN — For the second time in three years, Brentwood won a road game to earn a state tournament appearance.
Ben Mills scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Bruins to a 54-49 win at Station Camp in a Class AAA Sectional on Monday night.
Brentwood (26-8) earned its fifth state tournament appearance in seven years.
“I think we can go anywhere and play at any time and be successful,” Bruins coach Greg Shirley said. “So, it shows the character of the young men.”
Brentwood also earned a trip to Murfreesboro with a win at Northeast in 2017.
The Bruins rebounded from Thursday’s 78-51 loss to Franklin in the Region 6-AAA championship. Four of their eight losses were to the Rebels.
Brentwood overcame the loss of its leading scorer, Jack Thurman, late in the regular season for an undisclosed reason.
“They’ve stuck together through everything,” Shirley said. “Everybody that was on the team throughout the year at any time, I care about greatly. We’re all we got, we’re all we need, and they believe that.”
Brentwood led for the entire fourth quarter, but never by more than eight.
There were 10 lead changes in the first three quarters in front of a full house.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Mills said of going to state. “I’ve wanted to go since I was in middle school and I watched the team make three straight runs. It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing ever since then.”
Brentwood made it to state three consecutive seasons from 2013-15 with a runner-up showing and two semifinal appearances under former coach Dennis King, who retired with nearly 600 career wins.
Franklin earned its first state tournament appearance in 30 years Monday night with a 63-42 win over Gallatin.
“District 11-AAA is definitely the most difficult district in the state,” said Mills, a 6-foot-7 forward. “Two years ago, Independence and Brentwood went, so you can always expect a really good team to come out of that district. And the bottom teams in that district can compete with the top teams.”
The state tournament will be next week at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center.
Guards Kavon Blankenship and Eli Thurston led Station Camp (25-9) with 11 points each.
“It’s pretty tough to score against them,” said Blankenship, a 6-2 junior who scored nine of his points in the fourth quarter. “(Mills) and Harry Lackey are pretty big boys. They just got the momentum going and it wasn’t going for us at the end.”
Guard Joey McPherson’s basket gave the Bruins a 31-29 lead at the end of the third quarter and Brentwood led the rest of the way.
“We’re always a pretty consistent defensive team and I think it showed tonight, holding them to less than 50 points,” Bruins guard John Windley said. “So good job by us.”
Lackey, a 6-6 guard, fouled out with six points with 1:19 left.
“I think that’s probably the longest team we’ve played against in some time,” Bison coach Seth Massey said. “I can’t remember really playing against a longer team. We had a real hard time spacing them.”
Station Camp fell one win short of its first state tournament appearance since 2016 when it beat Independence in the sectional.
“I thought the game got away from us in the third quarter when we missed a couple of 3’s,” Massey said. “I felt like if we could ever get up two possessions we could extend the floor and make them come out and guard us because their length was an issue inside the arc.”
Station Camp never led by more than three.
Brentwood shot 53-percent from the floor on 16 of 30 shooting.