Last year, Pineville came close to ending their four-year region tournament drought. After ending the regular season with one of the top overall records in the region, the Mountain Lions lost 78-69 in the opening round of the district tournament in a rubber match with Barbourville.
Pineville will look to take the next step this year while returning a senior heavy starting lineup. With the Mountain Lions playing in District 51 against tough teams like Barbourville and Knox Central, advancing to the region will be no easy task.
The Mountain Lions finished last year with one of the best overall records in Region 13. The team finished 21-9 while going 15-6 in the region. They had three different stints where they won four or more games in a row.
Pineville’s longest win streak stretched from Dec. 19 through Jan. 5 with wins over Hancock County, Tennessee; Washburn, Tennessee; Wolfe County, Williamsburg, Middlesboro and Lynn Camp.
In addition to having an impressive record, the Mountain Lions won the 13th Region All A Classic with victories over Williamsburg and Oneida Baptist Institute. The team advanced to the state All A Tournament, where they lost to University Heights in the opening round.
The postseason wasn’t as kind to the Mountain Lions as they lost 78-69 to Barbourville in the opening round of the district tournament. It was the third meeting between the two teams with each team holding one victory at the time.
“Last year, we lost two seniors in Joe Simpson and Jalen Byrd. They contributed quite a bit,” said Pineville coach JD Strange. “They were fortunate enough to win 21 games, and they won the SEKC championship and the 13th Region Class A. So they had a lot of positive things working in their favor.”
The Mountain Lions return a large portion of their starting lineup from a year ago. All five projected starters played substantial minutes for Pineville last season.
“A big strength of this team is going to be the fact that they’ve got chemistry, they play with harmony, they trust each other, they like each other, and not to mention fundamentally they can guard somebody,” said Strange. “One of our key components is going to be defense. We’ve got some skilled people that can make plays. All of our kids are athletic and they hustle. They are fun to watch when things are clicking, especially when they play together.”
Two of the key players returning are seniors Cody Carnes and Trent Lefevers. The two were the only players that averaged double digit points for Pineville last year.
Carnes led the team averaging 19.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Lefevers tallied 14.1 points while shooting at a 46 percent clip from the field. He also grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game for the Lions.
Will Adams returns as a front court presence for Pineville. The junior started a large portion of the year last season and averaged 5.1 rebounds.
Josh Lawson also saw plenty of minutes for Pineville last season both as a starter and as a roleplayer. The junior guard averaged about eight points per game while leading the team in 3-point efficiency, shooting 36.9 percent from long range.
Tucker Woolum rounds out the field at the point guard position. While the stat sheet doesn’t fill out for Woolum, he brings an intensity and defensive presence to the court that benefits the Mountain Lions.
“We’re looking at playing six, seven, eight kids if we have to. I think we can…in time,” said Strange. “We need leadership out of our seniors. They’re competitors and they’re winners. Several of them play different sports, and they proved to be winners there. I think it will carry over.”
Pinevlle played several young players during the recent SEKC Panorama. Ben Goodin, Braxton Caldwell, Dillon Asher and Clay Goodin each saw time during that game. It is likely that sophomore forward Chris Saylor and sophomore guard Daniel Watts will also see some playing time throughout the year as well.
Strange said the team will likely have a target on their back after the success they had last season.
“People are going to be ready for us. We know that,” said Strange. “We’ve got to be as equally ready when we play each and every game knowing that the other team is after us. We want to be just as hungry and after them as well.”
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN