By JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO – The droves of Kingston fans that drove hours to the Murphy Center, just to see if their beloved Yellow Jackets could pull off the shocker of the Class AA state tournament Friday, rose to their feet with 3 minutes, 1 second, left in the semifinal contest.
And they gave a heartfelt and lengthy ovation to the starters exiting the court who had lifted the Yellow Jackets program to this stage for the first time in more than four decades.
Kingston head coach Colt Narramore embraced each player, wiped a few tears away and tried to get as many of his players as he could a chance to grace the court before the magical ride of 2020-21 ended.
Jackson South Side, a team that went 32-0 last year and improved to 26-1 Friday, got the win over Kingston, 70-45. They’ll take on Greeneville in the state championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. Central time.
“This community has just been unbelievably supportive of us,” said Narramore. “They’ve grown attached to these kids. It’s almost like we grew up together.
“I told them in the locker room there that four or five years ago, I was done. Done coaching. Quit it. Then these guys over here to my right showed up. Brady (Luttrell) and Harper (Neal) showed up, and their crew showed up. Gave an old guy some new life in this game. Got me a chance to get to Murfreesboro. Don’t know how many chances I’ll get — probably not many more, if any.
“Just the love these kids have for their hometown is unbelievable. It won’t matter where these guys go after this, these guys won’t forget this town — and I promise you Kingston won’t forget these guys.”
Kingston (27-6) captivated its town and fan base with a 7-0 start to the season and kept them on board by winning the program’s first district championship in 20 years.
Then came the first region title since 1979, made possible by a triple-overtime win over Scott in the region semifinals.
More victory spoils ensued.
The first sectional appearance since 1992.
The first state tournament appearance since 1991.
All the while, senior point guard Brady Luttrell fought through a bad knee injury to keep playing and providing that emotional support for the team.
“No matter what, I just wanted to go out there and play with my guys,” said Luttrell. “Shot attempts didn’t matter. Points didn’t matter.”
Thursday, the Yellow Jackets fought past foul trouble and injury to rally in the fourth quarter and then defeated Community in overtime, claiming the program’s first state tournament win since March 20, 1979.
So when Jackson South Side raced to a 36-5 lead Friday, it didn’t follow the script that the Yellow Jackets were accustomed to reading.
The Hawks shot 70 percent in the first quarter and 61 percent in the half. They had five players finish in double figures, determined to reach the state final that eluded them in 2020 because of the Covid shutdown.
Meanwhile, Kingston didn’t stop battling, a hallmark of their play.
“They don’t quit. We’re not scared of anybody,” said Narramore. “We had a tough day. Nothing went well. But they’re always there to fight, to hug each other, to lift each other up.
“These guys, their togetherness and toughness — we started this Kingston Family thing a couple years ago — and they embodied it and embraced it. And they’ll carry it on when they graduate and move on to new things.”
Colby Raymer finished with 21 points and seven rebounds.
Harper Neal had 12 points.
The Yellow Jackets got their deficit down to 21 points (55-34) near the end of the third quarter.
But the initial blow South Side delivered proved too much to overcome.
And the raw emotion that spewed forth from the Kingston seniors was too genuine to keep inside.
“When you and your friends have put this much work in, to change the program and get the program back to where it used to be in the 60s and 70s,” said Neal, “it was tough to walk off that court one last time, wearing the orange and blue.
“Because, I just care about this town so much.”