When the Grace Academy boys' basketball team jumped out to a strong start against Whitwell on Friday night, it also helped the Golden Eagles get a head start on the rest of the Region 3-A field.
While the three other region quarterfinals will be played Saturday, No. 2 seeded Grace hosted both boys and girls games against No. 3 Whitwell on Friday. The Lady Golden Eagles fell 42-29, but the Grace boys advanced to Tuesday's region semifinals with a 71-49 victory over the Tigers.
Although Whitwell took a brief one-point lead after opening with back-to-back 3-pointers, the Golden Eagles got two treys from Josh Smith in the first four minutes Friday, followed by nine straight points from Austin Powell to take a 21-11 advantage into the second quarter.
"Josh hit a couple of big 3s early that really got us going, and Austin had a great start," Grace coach Jon Mattheiss said. "We've had a tendency to start really slow this year, but tonight we were ready to play right off the bat. We had a great crowd from both teams, and I think that really fired the kids up."
After Justin Harris hit one of Whitwell's six 3-pointers with 2:31 remaining in the first quarter, the Tigers didn't score again until the 6:34 mark of the second. Over the next three minutes, the Golden Eagles extended their lead to 33-16, and the margin at the half was 18 points.
"We scouted them and knew who their shooters were," Mattheiss said. "They have several kids who can shoot, so we knew we were going to go man. We couldn't sit in a zone and let them shoot, and (assistant) Coach (Darris) Waters did a great job picking the right matchups for us tonight."
Grace (11-14) maintained its lead in the third quarter, and extended it in the fourth after another string of seven straight points from Powell, who finished with a game-high 23. Smith totaled 14 for the Golden Eagles and Blake Savard followed with 12, while Harris led Whitwell with 19.
With the pressure of a first-round game off their shoulders, the Golden Eagles can now turn their attention to preparing for a semifinal matchup on Tuesday, when the tournament moves to Sale Creek.
"Tomorrow we get to go up and watch Marion County and Silverdale," Mattheiss said. "We just keep telling the guys that we're one game away from going to substate. All we have to do is win one big game and we're in the region championship."
Whitwell girls 42, Grace Academy 29:
The first quarter of the girls' quarterfinal ended tied at 7-7, but the Lady Tigers turned the tempo, and the tide, in their favor during the second period. Whitwell increased its pressure and pulled ahead 20-11 after holding Grace to just four points in the quarter.
"We rely heavily on our press," Lady Tigers coach Eric Zensen said. "After the first quarter, we started picking that up, and then we were able to speed up the game."
A long third-quarter scoring drought ended for Grace with four points from Sierra Nunley in the final 10 seconds of the period, and although the Lady Golden Eagles got within 13 points with just under seven minutes remaining, they got no closer the rest of the way.
Alyssa Coppinger finished with a game-high 18 points for Whitwell (24-8) and Paige Carter followed with 12. The Lady Tigers advance to the region semifinals to be played Monday at Sale Creek.
"I thought we played hard and had great effort, especially on defense," Zensen said. "We didn't shoot the ball particularly well tonight, so we knew we had to get the job done on the defensive end of the floor, and I think we did."
Nunley finished with 14 points for Grace, which ends the season 10-15.
"These kids had a great year," Lady Golden Eagles coach Les Compton said. "Their record doesn't show what champions they are. They worked hard and had a great attitude."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org
Region 3-A Quarterfinals
At Grace Academy
WHITWELL GIRLS 42, GRACE ACADEMY 29
Whitwell 7 13 10 12 -- 42
Grace 7 4 5 13 -- 29
Whitwell (42) -- Gholston 2, Smith 1, Bennington, Atterton, Alyssa Coppinger 18, Paige Carter 12, Kilgore 8, Hedrick 1, Andregg, Johnson, Fuller, Blair.
Grace (29) -- Mouw 2, Turner, Gill 3, Jemane, Bonner 2, Goodman 4, Compton, Sierra Nunley 14, Carter, McMasters 2, Ruefernaught.
3-point goals: Whitwell 2 (Carter 2); Grace 2 (Nunley 2)
GRACE ACADEMY 71, WHITWELL 49
Whitwell 11 8 17 13 -- 49
Grace 21 16 16 18 -- 71
Whitwell (49) -- Meade, H. Patton 6, Chase White 10, E. Nunley, S. Nunley 3, Parris, J. Patton, Bryant 6, Justin Harris 19, McDaniel 5.
Grace (71) -- Slack 4, Hughes, Swanson 3, Hernandez 8, Josh Smith 14, Blake Savard 12, Tisdale, Godsey 2, McQueen 5, Matheny, Mason, Austin Powell 23, Cooke.
3-point goals: Whitwell 6 ( ); Grace 6 (Smith 3, Savard 2, McQueen).