NICKELSVILLE - The St. Paul boys clinched third place in the Cumberland District with Friday's 62-52 win at Twin Springs.
The Deacons were a lot more excited about it than you'd normally expect for a victory that earned them third place.
"It's a huge win. Especially at their home court. They have wonderful fans who are always getting in your head," said St. Paul guard Nathan Evans, who scored 20 points, dished out four assists and nabbed three steals.
Beating Twin Springs at Nickelsville would be a big deal for St. Paul under any circumstance. But this one sealed the Deacons' best-case scenario for next week's district tournament at Clinchco.
The third-place finish keeps the Deacons (15-7, 6-4) out of top-ranked Castlewood's bracket. They'll open with Ervinton - whom they've beaten twice - in Tuesday's play-in game at St. Paul. If they get past the Rebels, they'll face second-place Rye Cove in the semifinals.
The Deacons split with the Eagles in the regular season. They fell 59-51 in the second meeting at Clinchport but held league scoring leader Adam Hood to an unheard-of six points in the 46-21 homestand.
"We're right where we want to be," said St. Paul coach Patrick Damron. "Our kids really wanted this game and hopefully we'll have something to say as far as who's going to the region."
Once a perennial cellar-dweller, the Deacons are as fearless a team as any in the Cumberland this season.
"We wanted to see Rye Cove again," said 6-foot-4, 245-pound post Ryan Padgett, who scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds. "We can beat Rye Cove."
Brandon Phillips added 15 points for the Deacons, also grabbing nine rebounds.
St. Paul's Chris Vance drew the tough defensive assignment, shadowing Twin Springs dynamo Mark Dockery while Padgett and fellow post Daniel Williams (6-6, 235) lurked in the paint to control the boards and help when needed.
Dockery finished with 17 points for the Titans (8-12, 4-6), including a trio of 3-pointers off the dribble from NBA range. Devon Matthews fired up 15 points and Jeremy Jordan added 12.
The Deacons outrebounded Twin Springs 45-19, with Williams hauling down seven.
"They horsed us around pretty good in the lane with their big kids," said Twin Springs coach John McCrary, whose squad was locked in a 48-48 tie as late as Jeremy Jordan's bucket with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter.
A minute later, Evans whirled into the paint like a dervish for the 50-48 go-ahead. Over the final four minutes, the Titans committed four turnovers that the Deacons converted for a comfortable lead in the stretch.
"We didn't play all that bad," said McCrary, who has led the Titans to three consecutive Group A Final Four appearances. "I thought we played really good through the first three quarters. Then our youth and inexperience showed up."
In Friday's girls game, the Lady Titans gave St. Paul more than a little token resistance before the third-place Lady Deacons finally put away the game in the fourth quarter for a 35-30 win.
Courtney Evans scored 22 points for St. Paul (18-4, 7-3) while Lindsey Hall chipped in nine.
"Evans came out sluggish and got two fouls in the first quarter, which was a disaster," said St. Paul coach Wayne Rasnick, whose team will face Ervinton in Monday's satellite site district tournament opener at St. Paul.
"Twin Springs has improved very much."
Whitney McConnell scored nine for the Lady Titans (4-17, 3-7). Emily Kincer added seven and Breana Dockery put in six.
"We pick our moments. It's a shame, because we're a good defensive team when we want to be," said Twin Springs coach Jordan Mullins, whose team plays Thomas Walker in Monday's opening round. "We had our moments."