Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bears finish 7-on-7 on top

Leader sports editor

The last team in was the last team standing Friday at the Jacksonville High School’s first Aim High/Let it Fly 7-on-7 Tournament. Sylvan Hills, who replaced a late dropout just a few days earlier, beat host Jacksonville Red in an exciting final between the two 5A-Central rivals.

Jacksonville Red, which was one of two JHS teams in the tournament, had the ball inside the 10-yard line with four seconds remaining and a chance to score and win the tournament. But Sylvan Hills came through with the defensive stop to preserve the victory.

It was the second 7-on-7 championship game the Bears had played in eight days. They made it to the final of the Garrett Uekman Tournament the week before at Catholic High, but lost that game to Joe T. Robinson.

“I thought we played better than we did the Friday before,” said Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow. “This time we made a few more plays that helped us win it. I thought the kids competed hard.”

Sylvan Hills won the event despite being without its projected starting quarterback, junior Jordan Washington, who was at an AAU basketball tournament. Sophomore Ryan Lumpkin stepped in and led the team to the Aim High championship. Withrow has been high on Lumpkin since last season, so wasn’t too surprised to see his backup perform so well.

“He quarterbacked the whole time for us over at Benton, too,” Withrow said. “So that doesn’t bother me. It just helps Ryan. They’ve both been able to get a lot of work in this summer, and I’m pleased. They both still have a ways to go. There are still some reads and stuff they could do a whole lot better than they do. But sometimes I think they’re just testing me – trying to see if they can put me back on the Lipitor.”

While Withrow’s quarterbacks still need work on making reads, situational football has seen a marked improvement.

“One thing you can see is they’re starting to understand situations a whole lot better,” Withrow said. “If it’s third and short we don’t have to go downfield. They’re understanding moving the sticks. Overall, from where we were in March to where we are now, there’s definite improvement.”

Wide receiver Cameron Sharp continued to make plays, as he’s done in most events this summer. Withrow has been high on Sharp since spring football, and his expectations continue to grow.

“Cameron Sharp has been the guy,” Withrow said. “Nobody has been able to stop him all summer. If he’s willing to be mature and do all the things we ask of him in order to make him better, I think he has a chance to have a really great year. I think he’s a big time receiver. He has made play after play all summer long.”

Withrow also likes how well his running backs caught the ball on Friday.

“Brandon Bracely played well,” Withrow said. “Bracely was a starting defensive back last year, and could see more time on offense this season. The other running back who impressed the head coach was sophomore Deon Youngblood.

“He’s a guy that acts like he’s older than he is, and plays like he’s holder than he is,” Withrow said. “He does a lot of good things with or without the ball.”

Skill players aren’t the only Bears to have got some competitive work in this summer. On Tuesday, Sylvan Hills played in the third and final team camp at Catholic High. Offensive line is one area where the Bears have a lot to replace from last year, but returning starter Sam Perez has led the way on an improving front line.

“Coach (Denny) Tipton has worked all summer with them (the offensive line), and they have gotten better and better,” Withrow said. “Sam Perez has done well. He’s been the guy we’re counting on and he’s doing a good job. Tucker Price has done well at center. Nolan Smith has gotten a lot better. It’s like at quarterback. There’s a ways to go, but you can see improvement.”

And on beating Jacksonville in the championship game of its own tournament, Withrow said there might have been a little more motivation in that one.

“I think you can say that rivalry is sort of brewing again, and that’s good. But I also have to say they ran a first-class tournament and were really gracious to us. It was an outstanding tournament with the things they had going.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be on the right side of that game, but I was more worried about us playing well than I was about who we were playing.”