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Pirates celebrate in spite of loss

Posted on Monday, January 15, 2024 at 12:03 pm

SHANE SHOEMAKER – Writer

The South Pittsburg boys basketball team may have suffered their first loss of the season, losing 56-49 to Grundy Co. last Wednesday night, but there was still a cause for celebration to be had before the game.

Just before the Christmas break, on Dec. 15, the Pirates played at Copper Basin, and unbeknownst to senior point guard RaCash Kelly, he was just 18 points away from a major career milestone.

“I really didn’t know. Actually, I started off slow,” Kelly said of the away game against the Cougars.

Not long after halftime, Kelly said he wasn’t feeling well, which made playing difficult, but South Pittsburg head basketball coach Cody Henegar told him to keep playing, knowing what was at stake.

“I said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can go or not,’” Kelly said. “He’s like, ‘Just stick it out.’ Somehow, I just got some steals, smoked the layup, got another steal, made the layup. It was very hard scoring those 18 points.”

Eighteen points was the exact mark that Kelly needed to reach what only two other players in South Pittsburg basketball history have done before – Antonio Robinson in 2008 and Garrison Andry in 2020 – which was scoring 1,000 career points.

“I kept giving him updates for every game of how many he scored,” Henegar said. But Kelly always shrugged it off, never allowing individual statistics to overtake the goals of the team.

“He’s very even keeled. Absolutely,” Henegar said of the senior who he’s been coaching since his 7th grade year. “I tell my guys that, you don’t want to be too low on yourselves and you don’t want to get too high. And I think that’s great for RaCash, that he’s just even-keel, shows no emotion. I mean, that’s great on the basketball floor, or in sports in general.”

To recognize him for his accomplishment, before the game on Wednesday night, Henegar presented Kelly at midcourt with a commemorative basketball with the engraving of Kelly’s name and “1000 pts” on it.

“It means a lot to me, you know, to put it up with the trophies I’ve won the previous years,” Kelly said.

Kelly, who holds a 3.3 GPA and has already been accepted to Austin Peay and ETSU on academic scholarships, is a two-sport athlete, playing basketball and football, where he is a three-time All-State player. He was a part of the 2023 Pirates football state championship team, but also played in two other state title games, winning another one in 2021.

The only thing missing for Kelly, is his best friend Jailyn Pellam, who died in a car accident back in June of 2022.

The two were said to be inseparable and constantly working together on their goals. In a way, Kelly – who wore No. 11 in football in memory of his best friend – is still working with Pellam – whose No. 5 for the boys’ basketball team has since been retired – as he has become an inspiration and motivation that has resulted in moments like on Wednesday night, with hard work paying off.

“I play for him a lot,” Kelly said. “He would love to be here. He put in the work everyday to be here. And I know he would want me to put in the work.”

Pellam would have been a part of what Henegar has called a special senior class that has given Pirates basketball a resurgence.

In 2020, the Pirates won their first district title in 34 years, and are now going for their fourth in a row with Kelly and other seniors in Jamarion Farrior, Cameron Grider, RaCash Tipton, Sam Pratt, Camden May, Cavin Gilley, Jacob Bivens and Brett Mashburn.

“I’ve seen him [Kelly] progress and grow into the great man that he is,” Henegar said. “It’s just been a blessing. Just him and this group of seniors… they’re just really good kids and they just want to come in and work and want to be coached, and that makes my job here easy.”

Kelly & the Pirates will take on  Sewanee on January 11th at home and travel to Whitwell to face the Tigers on January 12th.

The Marion Tribune – January 11, 2024