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Rewriting History: Union Grove breaks postseason drought

By Brandon Ogden
Feb. 17, 2014 at 5:13 p.m.

UNION GROVE – The idea of going to the postseason hasn't been given much thought in Union Grove for most of the past 50 years.

After decades of playoff futility, Union Grove was running out of people to call upon to put an end to the drought. That is until this year as the "Slumpbusters" have answered the challenge.

In the football season, the Lions reached the playoffs for the first time since 1968. The trip to the postseason was short lived, however, as Union Grove dropped a 56-17 decision to state semifinalist Waskom.

Some of those same faces who helped change things on the gridiron are back at it, this time on the hardwood.

With a 64-54 victory over Jefferson on Saturday at Ore City in a game to decide fourth place in District 17-2A, Union Grove is advancing to the basketball playoffs for the first time since 1961.

"It felt really good," junior Tristen Thompson said. "We started it in football and now to do it in basketball, which was a longer drought, it's amazing."

All but one of the members of the Lions' basketball team was also on the Union Grove football team.

"It's pretty cool," senior Garrett Gibson said. "We will get to put another banner up on the wall, and it will be something I can show my kids one day.

"We don't want to be one-and-done, though. We want to make a run and go a couple of rounds deep."

Union Grove will start its postseason journey against 18-2A champion Hawkins at 8 tonight at Longview's Lobo Coliseum.

"The kids are hungry," Union Grove head coach Dee Lewis said. "We are glad to be in the playoffs, but we don't want to just be there, we want to win."

Lewis is in his second season at Union Grove after spending the previous four seasons at New Diana.

"When I first took the job, I had some buddies and other coaches tell me I was crazy," Lewis said. "I knew it would be tough coming in, but the more I sat back and reflected, I knew I was here for a reason."

In Lewis' first season, the Lions finished with a 16-15 record and once again missed the playoffs.

"I knew coming into this year we had a chance to be good," Lewis said. "The kids worked all summer and have fought all season, and it's paid off."

The last time Union Grove reached the playoffs, it advanced all the way to the regional tournament under head coach Glyn Johnston, who was also the coach of the Lions' football team that made the playoffs in 1968.

"The crazy thing is our coach left at midterm, and the superintendent asked me to take over," Johnston said. "We won bi-district and made it to regionals."

Johnston said it's good to see Union Grove having the success it's having this year.

"I feel good for them," he said. "They have a good team this year. I hope they do really well in the playoffs."

Melinda Smith, who graduated from Union Grove in 1965 and is still a coach at the school, said her brother Olin Smith was on the last Union Grove basketball team that had made it to the playoffs before this season.

"I think it's great for the kids and the program," Smith said. "It's been a long drought."

Smith said she will be at tonight's game against Hawkins. According to the team, they expect several more fans to be there, as well.

"Normally, the gym would be packed for the girls' game, and they would leave before our game," Gibson said. "Now that we're winning, that has changed."

"When I was at Diana, we would come here to play, and it would be standing room only for the girls' games and then empty when the guys played," Lewis said. "Now, we've been getting great crowds and tremendous community support. It makes the guys feel great."

Lewis said being in a district with Tatum, Waskom, White Oak and Jefferson helps the Lions (18-11) head into the playoffs feeling prepared.

"It's the basketball district of doom," the coach said. "Every night is a battle. For us to be where we are at, we definitely had to work for it."

The Lions know they're in for another battle tonight against Hawkins, which enters with a 20-5 record.

"We have to continue to play as a team," Thompson said. "We have to make our layups and free throws and limit our turnovers."

"They're long, and they play a very good 1-3-1 zone," Lewis said. "We have to be patient and get good shots. On defense, we have to limit them to one shot."

Members of the Lions are Gibson, Thompson, Garrett Bowery, John Martin, Austin Owens, Coleson Klein, Hayden Gray, Ethan Tillery, Hunter Gray, Cole Wood, Kyle Cotton, Tyler Owens, Chase Day and Triston Adkins.

<em>(Follow Brandon Ogden on Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/brandonosports" target="_blank">@BrandonOSports</a>)</em>



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