By JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — Though there’s a bigger goal for him and his teammates to attain Saturday, Greeneville junior Reid Satterfield couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment following their Class AA semifinal win Friday afternoon.
The Greene Devils didn’t get to play in last year’s state tournament, as Covid cancelled that opportunity before the event could commence.
So to make it back to Murfreesboro this time around and earn a spot in the state finals for the first time in program history felt like the best make-up call ever.
“It feels good. We got stripped of it last year,” Satterfield said. “I think we could have made some noise last year, too.
“But it feels good to come back and get to the championship this year. We’ve worked our butts off, and we deserve it.”
Mr. Basketball finalist Jakobi Gillespie scored 23 points, and Greeneville fought off Upperman for a 47-41 win Friday at the Murphy Center to advance to the program’s first state championship game.
They’ll take on Jackson South Side (26-1) at 2 p.m. Central time on Saturday in the title game. South Side ousted Kingston on Friday, using a 36-5 run to start the game to cruise into the state final they missed out on last year.
South Side was 32-0 last season.
So Greeneville will have its hands full, just as it did Friday.
Greeneville (31-6) led by just four entering the fourth but only scored two points the first five minutes of the quarter, allowing Upperman (27-6) to pull even.
Gillespie, uncharacteristically, missed two foul shots at the midpoint of the fourth that could have broken the 39-all tie.
Upperman did that instead. Senior post Alex Rush made with two foul shots with 2 minutes, 55 seconds remaining. He got to the line all game, going 10 of 12. His 6-foot-8 frame and athleticism gave Greeneville defender fits all day. He wound up with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Still, Gillespie’s slash to the hoop tied the game at 41 with a couple minutes to go.
He broke the tie with 1 minute to go, breaking down his defender and getting to the rim to finish over Rush.
Upperman turned it over on the other end, giving Greeneville possession with 28.9 left. Gillespie made amends for his previous misses at the foul line, sinking two with 26.6 seconds remaining for a four-point lead (45-41).
Satterfield, who had eight points and nine rebounds, added two more with 10 seconds to play for good measure. Greeneville had to make good on all its opportunities Friday, as it only had one offensive rebound, per the TSSAA box score.
“It felt great, just to ice the game,” said Gillespie.
“We’re the first team in history (to make it to the championship game). Felt good.”
Greeneville trailed at the break 25-21.
Gillespie, who had 10 points in the first half, hit a 3 midway through the second quarter to give the Greene Devils a 21-20 advantage. But Upperman methodically worked the ball from there, at one point possessing the ball for a two-minute stretch.
The early foul whistle worked against Greeneville, as they were hit with six fouls to Upperman’s one with just a couple minutes left in the half. The Bees went 5-for-6 at the foul line. Greeneville did not attempt a foul shot in the first half.
Greeneville finally got to the foul line with 3:07 left in the third, and Satterfield’s two shots cut Upperman’s lead to 31-30.
Then Gillespie popped in a 3, and Greeneville ran to a 37-33 lead with a quarter to play. The Greene Devils closed the third on a 12-2 run.
“It felt good. I think Coach (Brad) Woolsey does a great job of teaching us discipline,” said Satterfield, “and just keeping us steady when things are going wrong for us.”