Lookout Valley's Delaney Heathington was so excited about what happened Friday night, he flipped -- literally.
If Heathington's free throw with 6.2 seconds remaining didn't punctuate the Yellow Jackets' 47-43 District 6-A high school basketball victory over Van Buren County at Lookout Valley, his hand-spring backflip right after the final buzzer did.
The significance for Lookout Valley (19-5, 9-1) is it moves into sole possession of first place in the district standings ahead of Van Buren (17-6, 9-2) and Sale Creek, which also has two league losses.
Next Thursday, the Panthers could create a three-way tie for first place in the district standings when they host the Yellow Jackets, or Lookout Valley could clinch the regular-season title. That might cause Heathington to flip, too. He only pulls out the acrobatics periodically -- the first time being last season when the Jackets beat Van Buren in the district-tournament final at Whitwell.
"It's got to be a big win like that," Heathington said. "It's got to be a game that comes down to the nitty gritty."
Lookout Valley coach Joe Galloway permits it, but only in front of the student cheering section.
"We don't want to show anybody up," Galloway said. "But the kids get excited. We want them to have fun."
The Yellow Jackets weren't having fun at the beginning of the game, looking up at a 9-0 deficit that led to an early timeout.
Trailing 15-6, they began their recovery with the last four points of the first quarter before scoring 14 of the first 16 in the second to take a 24-17 lead. They led by as many as nine late in the half and by seven at the break.
"At the beginning it looked like they wanted to win more than we did," Galloway said. "One thing we wanted to do was press them. We felt like that could cause them some problems, but we had to score to get in it. In the second quarter I think we started making a few steals. At the beginning of the game we weren't moving. We were standing around watching them rebound.
"Every time we play them, defense and rebounding are key."
Lookout Valley maintained a lead throughout the second half until the 1:01 mark of the fourth quarter when Tucker McDonald's 3-point goal from the right wing made the Eagles 6-for-6 from behind the arc and put them ahead 43-42. The advantage, however, was short-lived because the Jackets' William Long drove through traffic and scored 12 seconds later, although he failed to complete a three-point play.
Long did convert both ends of a one-and-one with 22.6 seconds to play to make it 46-43. Sheldon Hitchcock, who had made four 3-pointers, two from NBA range, ended up missing from the top of the key with eight seconds remaining and Heathington was fouled on the rebound.
"They're a tough team," Heathington said. "We knew it was going to come down to the wire. They've got some incredible shooters."
Long led Lookout Valley with 22 points and four steals. Heathington added nine points and equaled Jamal Jones with eight rebounds.
Hitchcock paced Van Buren with 18 points and McDonald chipped in with 10.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.