Thursday, December 29, 2011

Collierville triumphs over Byhalia in Dragon Fire Invitational opener

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A young Collierville squad gave themselves, and coach Bobby Yates, a nice after-Christmas gift Tuesday, riding an 18-point, 22-rebound performance by 6-2 sophomore center Jessica Brown to a 56-48 decision over speedy Byhalia in the opening round of the Dragon Fire Invitational.

Nice, but nowhere near the gift Yates knows he has been given just by being back in his old routine as the weeklong marathon starts anew.

"It was a year ago during this tournament, that I first knew something was wrong. Came totally out of the blue," said Yates, who has spent much of 2011 dealing with an aggressive form of bladder cancer.

Doctors removed multiple tumors in January.

"Right now I'm feeling pretty good, though I get tired more easily than I used to," said the 55-year-old Yates, in his 12th season as basketball coach. "I've gained back much of the 45 pounds I lost. And while we won't know until they do the next round of tests in March, the doctors tell me I may not need chemotherapy."

Yates, and Collierville, struggled through an 8-23 season a year ago, including an 0-4 mark in this event. He said "you can probably chalk up a lot of losses to the fact I had other things on my mind. In hindsight it might have been better to step away."

Monica Brown, a junior guard whose six fourth-quarter points and key steals helped the Dragons (5-4) close out the Indians (8-6), remembered "we knew something was up because he kept having doctor's appointments. Then we found out how bad it was."

Junior point guard Lindsey Allen, who scored 13 points, has watched a friend deal with cancer in the family. She said "we tried to joke a lot and keep it light, because he tries not to take things too seriously."

But Dragons' assistant Larry Bizzell said "we knew he was hurting a lot, and it was tough to watch. Now it's much better."

Yates missed much of track season, making it back for the sectionals in May "though I was skin and bones at that point."

Coaches from several other schools stepped in to help his staff with practices and running meets, something that still touches him. "I'm not much of a delegator, so I left my assistant in a bad spot. But so many folks stepped up to help it still amazes me."

His wife, Gail, was all smiles when telling friends how things are going. "He's doing great, and I think we both have a totally different perspective on life, and this game."

A young squad that lost shooting guard Sidney Smith, who transferred to Briarcrest this month, showed patience and poise working the back door repeatedly on Byhalia, which finished second in this event last year and kept it close behind freshman guard Kimberly Reed's 19 points.

"We had to stay calm when they made runs, and use our size," said Jessica Brown, who was a force inside all night against the smaller Indians.

Yates said his young pivot "is getting stronger every game, and when she starts to assert herself a bit more she'll start to see how really good she can be."


Bartlett 63, Marion 43 - Destiny James scored 24 points as the Panthers (5-5) knocked off the reigning Dragon Fire champion Patriots (6-1), led by Timeshia Pettigrew's 12 points.

St. Benedict 46, Kirby 31 - DeErica Blakely's 20 points and 24 rebounds lifted the Eagles (6-4) past the Cougars (4-6).

Southwind 61, Millington 24 - Bianca Cage had the day's best scoring performance with 29 points as the Jaguars (12-2) gave first-year coach Stan Gatlin a rout over the Trojans (5-5), his former team.

FCA 69, Fairley 52 - Jennifer Milewski's 18 points led the Nighthawks (9-2) past the Bulldogs (4-7), who got 15 points from Essence Brinson.

Houston 47, St. Agnes 27 - Aysha Harris led a balanced attack with 12 points as the Mustangs (7-1) jumped to a 31-8 halftime lead and cruised past the Stars (3-6).

Jonesboro 63, Bolton 47 (OT) - Ivory Thornton, a 5-4 sophomore guard, scored eight of her 26 points in overtime to fuel a 19-3 explosion in the extra period for the Hurricanes (6-4). Kayla Bolden's 12 points led the Wildcats (3-6).

Manassas 88, Cordova 32 - Tiffany Jones had 22 points and Jamie Bond 20 as the Tigers (11-2) cruised by the Wolves (1-4).

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