Seven straight wins and a winning record that just keeps climbing. Caldwell County is one hot commodity in Region 2 basketball right now, and it's not over yet.
Caldwell County's 12-0 run to start the game against Hopkins County Central (8-21) on Tuesday night eventually helped send the Tigers (16-14) to a 70-52 District 7 semifinal win on Tuesday night and into Friday night's District 7 Championship game, where they will play David and face up with Goliath against top 10 Madisonville North Hopkins and star player Kenny White on their home floor in Madisonville at 7 p.m.
The Maroons have won the last 10 district titles with Hopkins County Central winning the last title before them in 2009.
Caldwell County is looking for their first District 7 title since 2007.
With Adarius Riley being the lone Tiger named to the All Region 2 Team recently, junior guard Tripp Branch played a hand in dealing the Storm the end of their season, scoring the first five points of the game after being omitted from the team.
Branch, a junior, went on to score 14 points on four 3-pointers, Cole Smiley added 10 and Cayden Fraliex scored a game high 17 points.
Adarius Riley penciled in seven points for the Tigers, JaMarius Blaine chipped in six and Jabrion Spikes, Jude East and Jasean Riley scored four points apiece.
For Hopkins County Central, Marcus Eaves led the way with 12 and Sam Almon was limited to six.
It took about three minutes, but once the Caldwell County Tigers started clicking and cutting, it was all she wrote.
For two teams that started a combined 0-18 this season, with the Storm starting 0-13, both of these clubs had figured it out coming into Tuesday.
"Our guys came to play, Tiger head coach Daniel Kukahiko said.
"We had a game plan and our guys executed it better than I thought they good. They did some things tonight that we haven't done, the execution was great and the defense was great. They bought into the game plan and that was the result."
Hopkins County Central had all-regional selection Sam Almon, but the Tigers ended the 2020 season got the storm on this night.
Tripp Branch scored the first five points of the game, including a triple for the first field goal either way three minutes in, and the Tigers followed with a steadfast 12-0 run to start the game before the Storm got on the board midway through one at 12-2.
Fraliex drew a rock solid charge moments later, and though they wouldn't get much more scoring in the final four minutes of the quarter, Caldwell would get a right wing triple by Branch before the horn, holding the Storm hostage defensively at 15-4 heading into the second quarter.
Fraliex added his own 3 to start the second at 19-6, and Smiley free throws sent the Tigers up 21-8 midway through the second quarter.
Next, Branch made his second 3 from the same spot that he made the first one, and Caldwell would lead by as many as 16 points in the first half on the way to a 32-18 halftime lead over Hopkins County Central after back to back acrobatic finishes at the rim by Blaine and a nice dish to Fraliex inside after the steal by TJ Ray.
Halfway to another district title game, the Tigers would see a greater defensive challenge from the Storm.
The beginning of the third quarter would see Fraliex make another triple before a cut by Riley to split two defenders gave the Tigers their largest lead yet at 18.
Smiley got inside on a putback to double up Caldwell at 40-20 midway through 3,
And Branch's third 3 kept Caldwell firmly in the drivers seat up 21 points.
Blasin Moore would see foul trouble the remainder of the night, and the Storm never recovered or found that second man to help out Almon.
A personal 5-0 run by Fraliex doubled up the Storm again at 48-24, and Jasean Riley put the Tigers over the 50-point threshold late in the frame on the way to a 50-28 command heading to the fourth.
The Tigers led by as many as 26 points in the third quarter, making 12 of their first 13 free throws as a team up to that point.
Smiley had a strong start to the fourth off the glass, and the Tigers continued to get to the line at will off of numerous steals in an early stretch in the fourth.
The Storm never got closer than within 18 points the rest of the way, as Caldwell County would go on to make 17 of their 20 free throw attempts to ensure their rightful place into Friday night's District 7 championship game.
Hopkins County Central would go a perfect 9-for-9 from the charity stripe, but it wouldn't seem to matter.
"They came out with effort and focus from the very beginning and it rolled all the way through the game at every end," Kukahiko added.
"Less than a minute to go, you have Carter coming off the bench who hadn't played the whole game passing to Mikey and getting the assist and the layup. It's a mindset that goes all the way down. It spreads from both guys. Those six seniors stepped up their game at the last half of the season, and I think it filtered down to the rest of our team and I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Tiger seniors ensured at least two more games in their high school career, securing a spot in the Region 2 Tournament next week even with a loss to Madisonville North Hopkins.