CROWDED LANE. Terrell Lane's Tymar Kearney (with ball) tries to find some breathing room in the paint during Monday's championship game of the Middle Athletic Conference Tournament. (Times photos by Geoff Neville)
LOUISBURG -- Even long-time local historians would be hard-pressed to find a better school year for boys athletics at Terrell Lane Middle School.
Back in the fall, TLMS won the Middle Athletic Conference Football Championship in grand fashion with an undefeated record.
But the fun was just starting. Basketball practice then started, and it didn't take long for veteran TL coach Keith Lynch to know he had a potential title group to work with.
Several of the football players also competed in basketball for the Tornadoes -- with the same measure of perfect success.
After going unbeaten during the regular season, Terrell Lane roared into the MAC Tournament as the top seed, and reached the finals before encountering Vance County Middle School in Monday's title outing at the TLMS Gymnasium.
Despite taking charge early in the game -- and building a substantial double-digit cushion -- the contest would not prove to be an easy one for Lynch's club.
But when it mattered most, the Tornadoes were able to excel down the stretch while holding off VCMS by a 37-27 margin in front of a noisy, overflow crowd that seemed to hang on every shot attempt.
The title road looked like it would be easy for the Tornadoes after they went on a 13-2 spurt in the second quarter of action, thanks in part to eight points from Anthony Carter.
TLMS led 21-8 at halftime and appeared to be rolling, but the pace of the game slowed down in the second half, which proved to be a benefit for Vance County's tall post players.
The Tornadoes were also unable to utilize their transition strategy, and Vance County got back into the showdown with a 7-0 surge to close the third frame.
Suddenly, Terrell Lane's lead was down to 26-20, and things didn't get any better for the first half of the final stanza.
Vance County drew back to within 28-27 and even had the ball with a potential chance to move ahead before the Tornadoes' defense clamped down with a fury.
Tymar Kearney collected a free throw at the 2:29 mark, but his second shot was missed.
However, Carter was there for the putback, and the crowd roared as the Tornadoes stretched out their advantage to 31-27.
Zy'marin Blacknall then came up with a steal and layup, and Terrell Lane was back ahead 33-27 at the 1:58 mark.
Lynch then interjected a bit of his genius into the proceedings after calling time-out with his team in possession 80 feet from the basket.
The Tornadoes then ran a beautiful inbounds play that resulted in a Carter breakaway layup, and what once had been a tenuous cushion was pushed back out to 35-27 at the 1:37 mark.
Vance County would not score again, and the Tornadoes put an exclamation point on the championship courtesy of Tay'vion Blacknall's steal and layup with just 12 seconds left.
The title was the Tornadoes' second over the past four years, with the last coming in 2017 when current Louisburg HS standout Elijah Jamison starred for Terrell Lane.