Defending champs ‘pulling together’ as playoffs near
Don’t put much stock in the Ashland Blue Devils’ record.
The back-to-back Class 1A state champions, who entered this week at 10-10, played a rugged early season schedule and were also without leading scorer DeAnthony Tipler for a few games.
“I’m pleased with the season so far,” said coach Rolley Tipler. “I know that probably sounds crazy, but I’m not worried about the record. I’m looking at the progress we’ve made.”
Most of the losses were to much larger schools like Ripley, Jackson Provine, Oxford, Center Hill, Middleton, Tenn., and Cordova, Tenn.
“I’m sure there are some 5A and 6A teams who could have played our schedule and still had the same outcome,” Tipler said.
“If you look at some of those games, we lost by eight or 10 points although they were closer than that.
“We did a lot of things right; we just came up short of getting the wins. I hope it will still pay off in the long run.”
Ashland lost seven seniors off last year’s team – a group that went to the state semi-finals before taking consecutive crowns in 2016 and 2017.
Only two starters are back from last year’s squad – DeAnthony Tipler and Ocquavion Agyekum.
“I had the luxury of having the same group for three or four years,” Coach Tipler said.
“With this group, I wanted to speed the process up and so I threw them in the fire really early (with the schedule).”
This year’s team features six seniors – DeAnthony Tipler, Taron Terry, Jamarqus Everett, Cornelius Jones, Kendarius Reaves and Ocquavion Agyekum.
“I think we started pulling things together about Christmastime,” Coach Tipler said. “Now it just comes down to finishing games.”
DeAnthony Tipler is averaging 30 points per game but Ashland is getting much-needed scoring from some of his teammates, too.
“We’re well-rounded in point production,” Coach Tipler said. “To win consistently, we need three kids averaging in double digits.”
The Blue Devils improved to 6-0 in Region 2-1A with a win over Potts Camp Saturday afternoon at home.
“I told some of the guys in the pre-season that we could easily be 0-10 going into district play,” Coach Tipler said. “I was afraid that might break their spirit, but I believe they saw the big picture.”
And that big picture includes the goal of a third straight gold ball in Jackson.
“People think I’m crazy, but I believe we have a good shot,” he said. “I believe things will start clicking at the right time.”
Some of the top squads touted as ones that could possibly dethrone Ashland include Okolona and Houlka.
“I have to have faith in my kids whether no one else believes in them or not,” Coach Tipler said. “I think we can make a legitimate run.”
The Devils hosted Holly Springs on Tuesday of this week looking to avenge a loss earlier in the season. They host H.W. Byers Friday and go to Hickory Flat Saturday, both of those district foes. Next Tuesday, Jan. 30, they host Hickory Flat.
The regular season wraps up in early February, with the District 2-1A Tournament schedule for February 12-16 at Falkner.