STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTO BY DEB SCALLY
It’s only fitting that the Brentwood once again endure the most dangerous path en route to a state championship.
The Bruins learned their fate during Tuesday’s blind draw, which pits them versus the Oakland Patriots (24-5) in the quarterfinals.
The two will square off Thursday, March 13, at 10:00 a.m. It’s not so much this matchup that poses the greatest threat to Brentwood (26-8), but what lies ahead—waiting on the other side of the bracket in the semifinals will be the winner between Cleveland and defending three-time state champions Memphis East.
Of course, Brentwood has fond memories of the western Tennessee powerhouse. The last time Memphis East lost a game at the state level was in 2015, which came at the hands of the Bruins who marched on to the lone Class AAA Finals game in school history, coming up short versus tournament champion Hamilton High School.
Brentwood will play at the Glass House for the fifth time ever, all coming within the past seven seasons. The Bruins snuck in through the back door, settling for the bridesmaid role versus longtime district rival Franklin Rebels but nevertheless advancing to state following a 54-49 road win over Station Camp on Monday.
The Bruins boast just one rostered player who saw minutes in their last state tournament appearance in 2017: Harry Lackey, who played just four minutes in Brentwood’s 2017 quarterfinals loss to Oak Ridge High School. That team also included Jack Thurman, a preseason pick for District 11-AAA co-Player of the Year, who is no longer on the roster.
In Oakland, the Bruins face the only true local team in the field, as their Murfeesboro campus is less than three miles from MTSU’s Murphy Center. The Patriots returns for the second time in the past three seasons, and 11th time in school history.
Like their quarterfinals counterpart, Oakland boasts just one state finals appearance, coming in 1984 when they fell short to Chattanooga’s Brainerd High School. The Patriots have appeared in the state tournament at least once every decade since first opening its doors in 1972, but are just 5-10 at this level and still in search of their first championship.
Oakland has, however, won eight straight, including having run the tables in the District 7-AAA and Region 4-AAA postseason tournaments. A 57-45 regional finals win over local rival Blackman earned the Patriots a home game for Monday’s Class AAA Sectionals, where they edged out powerhouse East Hamilton.
The team to garner the most media attention will undoubtedly be top-seeded Memphis East (23-8). The Mustangs aren’t just the most dominant team in the field, but the only squad among the eight to have won a championship in the 21st century.
The defending three-time state champions have claimed four titles since 2012 and nine overall; the other seven teams have combined to appear in the finals eight times, with four championships among them.
The Mustangs appear in the state tournament for the 16th time, with a school record of 32-6 at this level. Their last loss came in 2015—to Brentwood. They enter the 2019 tournament boasting two of the best prospects in the nation—perennial top pick in 7’0” senior James Wiseman and Malcolm Dandridge, both of whom are committed to Memphis U. at the next level. They will rejoin their previous high school coach and former NBA star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway once there.
Their opening round opponent is—statistically—the hottest team in the field, as Cleveland (29-4) returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2005. The Blue Raiders storm into Murfreesboro riding an 18-game win streak, including top honors in the District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA postseason tournaments.
A tall task awaits Cleveland, as their quarterfinals pairing is set for Thursday, March 14, at 11:30 a.m. By then, both team will know what lies ahead as the other side of their bracket will be decided during the 10:00 a.m. pairing between Brentwood and Oakland.
The semifinals pairing for this side of the bracket will take place Friday, March 15. at 2:45 p.m. The winner will advance to the Class AAA State Championship on Saturday, March 16 at 3:30 p.m.