No, it had nothing to do with an injury or being crushed emotionally by defeat. Mackey was just spent.
He left everything out on the Gadsden State-Cherokee arena floor against the Warriors, but it was enough for the Wildcats to claim a hard-fought 67-61 victory in the 2009 Cherokee County tournament championship game.
Mackey finished with 27 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots, two assists and two steals to help Sand Rock earn its first county title since 2000. His effort also ended the Warriors reign of eight consecutive county crowns.
While the rest of his teammates and coaches were scattered about the arena, Mackey was by himself with the symbol of Sand Rock’s victory: the Cherokee County championship trophy.
“This is what you look forward to, winning the county championship,” he said, clutching the trophy. “I’m still way up there. I’ve still got to come back down. It’s a feeling like no other.”
His coach, Brian Mackey, felt the same way.
“Words can’t explain it,” he said. “All year, we’ve been trying to get a good win and get over the hump. We took care of enough little things that got us over that hump tonight. They played with a lot of heart, and they held off a good Centre team. Centre’s always tough to beat.”
The top-seeded Wildcats (13-8) led almost throughout the entire game. They held an 11-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter and built a 29-22 lead at the break. Sand Rock led 48-35 at the end of the third quarter, but had to fight off a furious run by the Warriors down the stretch.
Cherokee County (10-9) cut the Wildcats lead down to a bucket at 63-61 off a rebound and putback by Coty Blanchard with a minute remaining in the game. However, that was as close as the Warriors would come as Sand Rock hit 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch for the win.
The Warriors lost despite a 30-point outing by Blanchard, including five 3-pointers. What spoiled Blanchard’s effort was the Warriors free-throw shooting.
“We played hard, and we play hard every single night, but it doesn’t matter when you miss 20 free throws,” Cherokee County coach Shane Reid said. “That ball game should have been a double-digit lead for us but when you miss free throws, you get beat. I’ve been telling them all year long that lay ups and free throws will get you beat. I don’t think they believed me, so maybe now they know.
“Coach Mackey does a good job. He had them ready to play and they were fired up. They wanted it, and they out-played us.”
Keon Rucker was the only other Warrior to score in double figures. He finished with 13 points. D.J. Fife added seven points and Brett Burgess came away with five points.
Brannon Burt added 16 points, five rebounds, five steals and two assists for the Wildcats. Justin Kyser had 12 points, four boards and an assist, but the star for the Wildcats on the night was Justin Mackey.
“He stepped up and come to play,” Brian Mackey said. “He showed a lot of senior leadership, and he made this whole team better tonight.”
Junior Varsity Boys County Championship
Cherokee County 59, Cedar Bluff 18 – Kenny Akin scored a game-high 14 points to lead the Warriors to the county title Saturday.
Nico McElrath added 10 points for the Warriors. Hudson Grimes had nine points. Jayde Boatfield, Zeph Fife and Trey Watson each had six points.
Cedar Bluff was led by Taylor Haggard, who finished with six points.
The Warriors jumped out to a 14-2 lead at the end of the first quarter and cruised to the victory.