It will be an all District 5 match for the Region 3-AA girls basketball championship at East Ridge on Wednesday night, but it will be all District 6-AA for the boys on Thursday.
With upsets being more the rule than the exception at East Ridge this week, the Tyner boys were the only district champions to advance, but it was a real tussle for the Rams in the second semifinal game on Tuesday evening.
McMinn Central and Brainerd both got eliminated in the girls semifinals on Monday while the McMinn Central boys saw their season come to a screeching halt in Tuesday's opening game as Brainerd held on for dear life in the fourth quarter to escape with a 78-71 victory.
Then in the second game on Tuesday, the East Ridge Pioneers put forth their best effort, but simply didn't have enough firepower in the fourth quarter to hold off Tyner as the Rams won their 11th straight game with the 61-45 victory.
Wednesday's championship game between Sequoyah at Loudon starts at 7 p.m. while Thursday's title game between Tyner and Brainerd will also tip off at the same time. The region champions will host a sectional game while the runners-up will both be on the road, the girls playing on Saturday and the guys on Monday.
BRAINERD 78, McMINN CENTRAL 71: This game alone was worth the price of admission, especially the fourth quarter when the Panthers some how, some way were able to withstand a furious Charger comeback.
Isaiah Shropshire had scored on a drive down the lane before Marquis Tipton nailed a 3 at the buzzer to give Brainerd a 62-43 lead when the third quarter ended.
Things were looking pretty good for the Panthers at that point as they had extended a 36-27 halftime lead, but the Chargers had other ideas.
Josh Scudder took matters into his own hands by scoring the first nine points of the fourth quarter as that 19-point lead suddenly shrank to 10 with 6:45 to play.
The Chargers stayed on the offensive attack and finally got to within one point on two occasions -- 69-68 with 1:56 left and 71-70 34 seconds later -- but the Panthers were able to withstand the onslaught and pulled out the victory with some critical free throw shooting in the final 75 seconds.
The Panthers had been deadly from the stripe in the second quarter when they canned 14 of 16, but they followed that up by missing six of their next eight, including the front end of two one-and-ones midway through the fourth stanza.
Brainerd finished the game by sinking 26 of 38 from the line.
However, when the chips were on the line and the Chargers were on the verge of retaking the lead, the Panthers canned nine of their last 12 to pull out the upset win in the final minute.
Needless to say, Brainerd's first-year coach Levar Brown was one of the happiest people in the gym when the final horn sounded.
"That is the team that ended our season last year and we were intent on getting a little revenge. We knew they would make a run, but we had to finish and we dug deep. We had been behind by 19 points to East Ridge the last time we played here, but we came back and won, so we knew it could be done.
"Our goal is to make the state tournament, not just win a region semifinal game. We just wanted to focus on McMinn Central tonight, but I felt like we played with a lot of heart and we kept our heads when it got close. We played Brainerd basketball, but this was a huge win for our team.
"Orlando Moore is a monster inside and we took advantage of him. Hopefully, we'll get another shot at Tyner on Thursday," Brown nodded, his team improving to 22-6 for the season.
McMinn Central coach Doug Armstrong knew it would be a tough game long before his team pulled into the parking lot.
"We gave them a run for their money, but we knew we were coming into the lion's den against a good team from Brainerd. We have a tremendous respect for Brainerd and Tyner. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but the biggest shots of the game didn't fall for us.
"Josh Scudder finally got going and he did a great job," Armstrong added.
Tipton scored 23 points to lead a trio of Brainerd players in double figures. Windell Graham followed with 20 while Moore added 16.
Isaiah Shropshire scored nine points for the winners and grabbed seven rebounds at Brainerd won the rebound battle by a 34-27 margin. Ledarius Lee also had seven caroms for the Panthers.
Scudder finished with a season-high 43 points, including 20 in that frantic fourth quarter. Skyler Farrar followed with 13. Scudder also had nine rebounds while Denzell Boyd had seven before fouling out late.
TYNER 61, EAST RIDGE 45: The Rams only scored four points in the first quarter and trailed by six at the first break, but their offense came to life in the second to take a 30-29 lead into the dressing room at intermission.
The Pioneers were hoping to make it four straight upsets in a row, but Tyner had other ideas.
East Ridge had a 40-35 lead following a 3 by Jesse Jones with 1:05 to go in the third as the Pioneers lead stretched to 40-35, but by the time Eddie Hitchcock nailed a 3 at the 6:15 mark of the fourth quarter, Tyner had turned the tide and were ahead by 47-43.
By the time East Ridge scored again on a layup by Kevin Blair with 2:35 to play, the difference was 59-45 and the Rams were well on their way to their 11th straight win and 23rd overall in 26 games.
"This was a do-or-die game for us. You lose here and you're finished for the season," said Tyner coach Gerald Harris afterward.
"Everything went well for East Ridge as they hit some big shots. We were tentative on defense at the beginning, but that's what got things turned around for us. We knew we were in a catfight, but DeVante Jones hit a big 3 at the end of the third quarter and DeQuan Hardwick had a big game for us.
"The good news is that we get to play again," Harris concluded before talking to his team.
East Ridge coach Jon Goddard felt like his team put forth its best effort, but critical turnovers were the straw that broke the camel's back for the Pioneers.
"We can't turn it over like we did and have a chance against a team like Tyner, but we fought and played hard the entire game," the likable coach explained, his team finishing a good season at 17-12.
"It's disappointing as we needed to be the aggressive team and we weren't, but it wasn't over until late in the third quarter. That's when we started going backwards," Goddard added.
Sadik Spence was again the leader for Tyner with 15 points. Hardwick was next with 13 while Daaron Mastin finished with 11. Kevin Cameron was next with nine points while Jones chipped in with eight as the Rams had a balanced attack.
Eddie Hitchcock scored 20 points to lead the Pioneers while Keion Jones was next with nine.
Alex Watkins only scored two points for Tyner, but he grabbed 10 rebounds as the Rams won that battle, 20-17. Hitchcock had five for the Pioneers.
BRAINERD 12 24 26 16 -- 78
McMINN CENTRAL 14 13 16 28 -- 71
BRAINERD (78) -- Stewart, Shropshire 9, Tipton 23, Evans 2, Graham 20, O. Moore 16, Lee 5, D. Moore 3.
McMINN CENTRAL (71) -- Farrar 13, Bull 3, Scudder 43, Kay 1, Harper, Boyd 4, Knight 4, Davis 3, Brooks.
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 6 (Tipton 3, Graham 2, Lee); McMinn Central 7 (Farrar 2, Scudder 5).
EAST RIDGE 10 19 11 5 -- 45
TYNER 4 26 13 18 -- 61
EAST RIDGE (45) -- King 5, Tillery, Millener, Talley 4, J. Jones 3, Hitchcock 20, K. Jones 9, Blair 2, Moore 2.
TYNER (61) -- Watson 3, Spence 15, Mastin 11, Jones 8, Hardwick 13, Cameron 9, Watkins 2.
3-POINT GOALS: East Ridge 7 (King, J. Jones, Hitchcock 5); Tyner 3 (Spence, Mastin, Jones).
(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)