Expected inclement weather will not dampen East Hamilton’s basketball spirits on Monday and Tuesday.
That’s because on Saturday, the East Hamilton girls and boys posted semifinal victories and are penciled in as District 5-3A tournament finalists against Bradley Central’s Bearettes and Cleveland’s streaking Blue Raiders, respectively, at Soddy-Daisy High School.
3 seed Lady Hurricanes, coached by Hunter Gremore, avenged two regular season losses and whipped No. 2 seed Cleveland, 57-39, behind a trio of double-figure scorers – Madison Hayes (17), Eliziah Laboo (14) and DeZah Lacy (13). Hayes grabbed 14 rebounds – 11 on the defensive end – for her second double-double in two tournament games and had seven blocked shots, six assists, three steals and just four turnovers.
“This is my third year at East Hamilton and I’ve preached defense since I arrived,” Gremore said. “We haven’t played defense like I want in recent games, but we’re now back to what we can do best in our two tournament games. Our defense was really good tonight.”
East Hamilton (21-7) will face perennial title contender Bradley Central in Monday’s championship game at 7:30 p.m. The Bearettes (26-3) knocked off longtime rival McMinn County, 59-40, behind the combined 28 points of Anna Walker and Jamaryn Blair. While Bradley (26-3) shot 40 percent from the field, the Bearettes’ pressure defense held Cleveland to 29 percent.
“This is a 94-foot floor had to get after McMinn and get into their gas tank,” said coach Jason Reuter, who guided the Bearettes to their 30th straight win over the Lady Cherokees. “We have more depth than McMinn and got into our man defense and started running. That made a difference.”
Reuter is 25-0 against the Lady Cherokees and his Bearettes ran their winning streak against district opponents to 67.
East Hamilton’s Hurricanes (21-7), under first-year coach Frank Jones, used a 13-0 run in the third quarter to stretch a one-point lead into a 52-36 spread and Bradley Central (17-10) was up a creek.
Darwin Randolph scored 18 points to lead the Canes’ offensive attack while Morrell Schramm had 17, Jamaal Walker 15 and Cam Montgomery 13.
“We still haven’t put together a full game,” Jones said. “We gave up too many easy shots tonight and just weren’t right offensively. We did better with 49 second-half points and did enough to win the game.”
The No. 1 Canes now have a rubber game set up with No. 2 Cleveland in Tuesday’s title game at 7:30 p.m. The two teams split the regular-season series with the home team winning both times.
The Blue Raiders (24-4), who have won 16 straight games, built a 41-28 halftime lead and saw the Cherokees (10-16) slice the margin to 53-44 early in the fourth quarter. Cleveland quickly stretched the lead out to 60-46 and hit 8-of-10 free throws over the final 90 seconds for the impressive 71-57 victory.
“(Friday) was our worst practice all year,” Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. “We didn’t play with a lot of energy at times tonight and if we play like that Tuesday against East Hamilton, we’ll have a long night.”
East Hamilton boys 75, Bradley Central 52: The Bears’ defense didn’t know where the Hurricanes’ next offensive attack was coming from. With Randolph, Schramm, Walker and Montgomery all in double figures, Bradley may as well have been facing a Gatlin gun.
East Hamilton led 29-28 in the third period and ran off 13 straight points to gain control. Randolph scored five points in the spree, Montgomery made a three-point play, Schramm knocked down a 3 and Walker scored on a put-back.
The Canes wound up with 26 points in the quarter.
“That felt good,” Schramm said. “We were running our offense really well and turned our defense around.”
Schramm, Walker and Montgomery are all-district selections and Montgomery was voted the league’s MVP.
The Bears scored 26 points in the fourth period and the Canes stuck right with them to post the final 23-point win.
“At this stage of the season I figured we’d have less losses,” said Walker, a Baylor transfer. “I fully expected to be in the final and we have to play hard and stay true to ourselves no matter who we play on Tuesday.”
After Bradley’s Mason Rothwell hit a baseline jumper and Tyler Ferguson added a put-back basket, the Hurricanes ran off 10 in a row and their lead was 52-32. East Hamilton was up 16 going into the fourth period and field goals from Schramm and Montgomery and Randolph made two free throws and the lead was 58-36.
McMinn then scored six points in 30 seconds, but still trailed by 16 points. The rest of the fourth quarter was just a formality.
“Getting to the championship game means a lot,” said Montgomery, a senior. “We got to the title game my sophomore year but came up short. Hopefully, we can win it Tuesday.”
Added Randolph, “It’s what we expected. We don’t play to lose. We play to win and we’ll go hard Tuesday against Cleveland.”
The Canes closed out their district play with a 66-52 win over Ooltewah. However, they suffered back-to-back losses to Howard and Oak Ridge – by a combined 22 points – and then had a week off before playing Bradley in the semifinals.
Most of the time off resulted from East Hamilton winning the regular season district title and earning a bye into the semifinals. The second-place Blue Raiders were rewarded in the same way.
Freshman Quante Berry led the Bears with 20 points and sophomore Tray Curry added 10 points.
East Hamilton girls 57, Cleveland 39: The game started with Cleveland sophomore Joy Douglass defensively shadowing Madison Hayes. If Hayes moved, so did Douglass. The Lady Raiders were playing physical defense all over the court with their emphasis on the district’s MVP and Miss Basketball finalist.
Hayes failed to score in the first quarter and had only one rebound.
“That’s when I told the girls we were OK and I felt good about that,” Gremore said. “Madison hadn’t scored and we still had an 11-8 lead.
Hayes came alive in the second, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds and East Hamilton pushed the lead to 30-16.
“We thought Cleveland would use a defense like that,” Hayes said. “After a while, they didn’t do a very good job with it. I knew she (Douglass) couldn’t guard me and I killed her on the offensive boards.”
Laboo converted a three-point play to open the third quarter and Douglass answered with a bucket. East Hamilton outscored Cleveland 10-2 to build a 39-20 advantage. Laboo added four more points in the Lady Canes’ scoring spurt.
Still, she wasn’t too happy.
“I played like trash,” she said. “Everybody else was doing good. It didn’t feel like I had 14 points.”
Laboo was scoreless at halftime, was 0-for-2 from the field and had one rebound.
She scored all her 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, made 4-of-5 at the free-throw line and had eight rebounds in the second half.
Said Gremore, who gave Laboo a two-handed high-five as she left the floor in the final minutes, “She was a beast in the second half.
Lacy’s points came on 5-of-11 shooting and added five assists and two steals.
“It feels great to beat Cleveland,” she said. “The whole season Cleveland thought they were better than us. But we won the big game that really mattered.”
Madison Dasher paced Cleveland (19-12) with 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting that included 4-for-8 from 3-point distance and 6-of-7 at the free-throw line.
Bradley Central girls 59, McMinn County 40: In the opening game of Saturday’s four-game card, the Bearettes were losing a battle with the Lady Cherokees’ Kaitlynn Hennessee, an all-district performer during the season. She had 13 points and six rebounds at the half.
Bradley standout Anna Walker had five points and three rebounds.
The two players switched roles in the second half.
Bradley Central, which is 40-8 in postseason games against McMinn County, nursed an eight-point into halftime and Walker, an all-district selection (Jamaryn Blair and Kaleigh Hughes also earned spots on the regular-season team), scored seven of her 10 second-half points in the third quarter.
When the period ended, the Bearettes had a 44-27 advantage and were on cruise control.
“Our full-court pressure was a big factor on the game,” Walker said. “Hennessee had a strong first half (she scored 13 points) and only managed three in the second half. I don’t think they had a lot of energy in the second half. We took advantage of that.”
Walker was asked if he had a preference to which team Bradley faced in the championship game.
“I couldn’t care less,” she said.
Hennessee scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Whitney Green added 10 points.
Walker heating up and Hennessee cooling off after halftime was a key factor in the game’s outcome,” McMinn coach Tim McPhail said.
“That was huge,” said McPhail, who is 0-31 against Bradley. “Walker is a really good inside-outside player and we tried to push her off the blocks. She is tough to defend. Bradley is a very good team. Our mental approach was good. Sometimes the other team has more horses than you do. You have to play exceptionally well to beat Bradley. We played good, but not exceptional.”
Cleveland boys 71, McMinn County 57: The hard-charging Blue Raiders came into the game having not lost a game since Oak Ridge beat them, 62-57, on Dec. 15, 2018.
If they missed a beat against the Cherokees, it was almost unnoticed. Down 4-2, Cleveland went on a 16-6 run and had an 18-11 lead after one quarter. Cleveland was up 41-28 at halftime and Grant Hurst, JaCobi Wood and Kley McGowan had hot hands. They finished 23 and 21 points, respectively.
Hurst had 11 points at half, including three of his four 3s. Wood scored 15 of his total and all three of his 3s in the opening half.
Kley McGowan wasn’t far behind with 19 points, 13 coming in the first half.
“Hurst shot well again and JaCobi was relentless and did a lot of good things,” said McCowan, the league’s coach of the year. “McMinn was poised early in the game and we were not. McMinn’s (Tyler Peel) was doing some good things inside offensively and defensively.”
A lot of the third period was dominated by matching buckets and Cleveland had a 48-33 lead with 5:57 on the clock. When the quarter ended with McMinn County trailed by 11 points.
A Brayden Runyan floater cut Cleveland’s lead to 60-52.
The Blue Raiders scored 11 of the final 16 points to preserve the win.
“We need to have much better effort on Tuesday,” McCowan said.
Bradley Central girls 59, McMinn County 40
McMinn County 9 8 10 13 – 40
Bradley Central 16 9 19 15 – 59
McMinn County (40) – Burns 9, Kaitlynn Hennessee 16, Green 10, Schiestel, Baxter, Manney, Dankworth 3, Smith 2.
Bradley Central (59) – Hughes 7, Roberts 1, Jamaryn Blair 13, Anna Walker 15, Lombard 4, Barnes 9, Reuter, Mayo 5, Williams 2, Carman 3.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 1 (Dankworth 1), Bradley Central 7 (Walker 3, Hughes 1, Lombard 1, Barnes 1, Mayo 1).
East Hamilton boys 75, Bradley Central 52
Bradley Central 13 13 10 26 – 52
East Hamilton 15 11 26 23 – 75
Bradley Central (52) – Quante Berry 20, Boyd 2, Clark 3, Tray Curry 10, Whaley, Ferguson 2, Wesley 4, Rothwell 2, Greene 6, McCleary 3, McClary, Davis.
East Hamilton (75) – Johnson 2, Jamaal Walker 15, Cam Montgomery 13, Morrell Schramm 17, Rogers, Long 7, Shropshire 2, Darwin Randolph 18, Jenkins, Eller 1, Pendleton, Mason.
3-Point Goals – Bradley Central none, East Hamilton 3 (Long 1, D. Randolph 1, Schramm 1).
East Hamilton girls 57, Cleveland 39
East Hamilton 11 15 13 18 – 57
Cleveland 8 8 4 18 – 39
East Hamilton (57) – Patton 2, Evans 2, DeZah Lacy 13, Seder, Copeland, Madison Hayes 17, Mc. Hayes 6, Johnson, Petitt 3, Sue, Eliziah Laboo 14.
Cleveland (39) – Goodman 2, Person 2, Rominger 3, Madison Dasher 20, Rouse 2, Williams, Walker, Douglass 8, Droke 2, Brock, Anderson, Alvarado, Jackson.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 3 (Mc. Hayes 2, Petitt 1), Cleveland 4 (Dasher 4).
Cleveland boys 71, McMinn County 57
McMinn County 11 17 14 15 – 57
Cleveland 18 23 12 18 – 71
McMinn County (57) – Daniel 2, Sharp 2, Wilson 8, Runyan 7, James 2, Jacob Elkins 18, Tyler Peel 18.
Cleveland (71) – Dale, Johnson 4, Howard, Wood 21, Hurst 23, Colbaugh, Bunton, Kley McGowan 19, Armstrong, Williams 4.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 4 (Elkins 4), Cleveland 8 (Hurst 4, Wood 3, McGowan 1).
Girls Third/Fourth Place
McMinn County vs. Cleveland, 6 p.m.
East Hamilton vs. Bradley Central, 7:30 p.m.
Boys Third/Fourth Place
Bradley Central vs. McMinn County, 6 p.m.
Cleveland vs. East Hamilton, 7:30 p.m.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)