It wasn’t exactly easy, but neither was it drama filled as the top seeds on both the girls’ and boys’ side played their way into Tuesday’s nights championship outing with a District 6AA titles on the line.
Top-seeded Brainerd used a big run to pull away from East Ridge in the boys’ semifinal finale Saturday night at Red Bank to the tune of 61-50. The Panthers (16-9) will play Tyner (19-6) in a 7:30 p.m. game Tuesday after the Rams handled their business with a 54-41 victory over Howard.
The Rams and Panthers finished tied for the league title, but Brainerd earned the top seed thanks to a regular-season sweep of Tyner. Tuesday night will mark the fourth battle between the two 6AA kingpins.
“It’s Tyner and Brainerd. Hard not to be excited about that,” admitted Tyner coach E’Jay Ward.
Brainerd guard Kevin Halfacre echoed the sentiment: “We always enjoy playing Tyner. We felt like we had the best team last year and didn’t get a chance to show it, and that hurt. We had a team that could have won the state. We are excited to begin the journey back.”
Howard (21-7) and East Ridge (17-13) will play in the consolation game at 7:30 p.m. on Monday to decide seeding for next week’s region tourney.
On the girls’ side, Red Bank and Signal Mountain will meet for the title after the two squads split regular season games and tied for the top spot. Both squads were sluggish in the first halves before hitting the turbo jets in the second to make the rematch possible.
Red Bank (19-7) disposed of the Brainerd Lady Panthers 64-55 in the opener on Saturday while Signal Mountain (20-10) got by Tyner 41-23. The title will be decided on Tuesday in a 6 p.m. game. Brainerd (15-9) will play Tyner (16-10) at 6 o’clock on Monday in the consolation game.
“We will give it our best shot. It should be a good one. It always is,” said Red Bank’s Bailey McGinnis of the battle with Signal Mountain.
“Hopefully we will be a little more focused than we were today, or it will be a long night,” countered Signal Mountain’s Kendra Bell of the game.
Red Bank girls 64, Brainerd 55: Lionette head coach Bailey McGinnis came in to the semifinal with a mindset that Brainerd’s Kimia Carter, the Miss Tennessee Basketball candidate, would get her points but it would be important to limit her Lady Panther teammates.
Safe to say after a 17-point first half by Carter which saw the second-seeded Lionettes up just 29-28 at the break, some changes in philosophy were broached in the halftime dressing room.
“She is such a great player and yeah we knew she was going to get hers, but we had to make it more difficult for her in the second half, and we did. We tried some triangle and two on her for a few possessions, but mostly we just did everything we could to deny her the ball before she got it,” said McGinnis.
Carter made just one field goal in the final half and four free throws en route to game-high 24 points, and Red Bank made it hurt with a big fourth quarter in which three different players scored six points in a 20-point outburst.
“We sort of weathered the storm. At halftime, I told them to just keep plugging and pushing and I thought our girls did. Obviously, the defensive effort on Carter was big, but I thought Bailey (Lee) and Savannah (Washington) played really well for us on offense and came up big when we needed them,” McGinnis added.
Lee led the Red bank team with 21 points, including a dozen in the second half. Washington added 15 and the two combined with Jasmine Roberts to spark that final period burial with six each.
Tyner boys 54, Howard 41: At times, the second-seeded Rams have played through quarters of basketball games likes zombies, but the one good thing about zombies is they don’t die easily. Tyner coach E’Jay Ward would prefer a different route, but for the most part the Rams head coach is more concerned about the destination.
For the third time this season against a strong Howard squad, Tyner fell behind by double digits only to flip the switch late. And for the second time this year, the rally was good enough for a win against the Hustlin’ Tigers.
“For some reason, we have played behind in a lot of games this year. Not making free throws has been a big part of that, but there have been so many moments like tonight when we’ve drawn on those previous rallies to find it. I think it has helped us. Our motto all year has been next play, next game, next round, so when things aren’t going well at times, these guys seem to put it behind them and play in the moment,” said Ward.
That moment against Howard has been the fourth quarter. The Rams have won two of the three battles against Howard and have done it by outscoring them 42-18 in the final period of those two wins. Even in the lone loss, Tyner found itself trailing by double digits to rally in the end before falling just short.
“Sometimes we need stuff like that to happen to us to get us going. Our mindset is to do whatever it takes,” said senior post Soloman Bridgeman, who hit two big free throws and grabbed several key rebounds late to help spark the win.
The Rams found themselves down by double digits before finally taking a third quarter lead and then blitzing Howard with a 21-point fourth quarter to end any late anxiety that was present in a one-point Tyner win and a five-point Howard win in the first two meetings.
Kobe Smith was his usual bothersome self for the Tigers, scoring eight of his game-high 17 points in the decisive period. Tyner made seven of nine free throws after missing eight of its first 11 attempts in the first three quarters.
Bridgeman keyed the attack with a 10-point second half and has seemed to find his rhythm the last couple of weeks after finally signing a football scholarship with Tennessee State on signing day to end a taxing recruiting period.
“I enjoyed the recruiting but it was an every weekend thing during the season and honestly my mind wasn’t always where it needed to be on the basketball court. After I signed, it allowed me to really just focus on the one goal, and that was getting back to the state and winning it,” Bridgeman said.
Added Ward of his big man: “He’s back to himself. I had to pull him from the lineup for awhile, but we knew he would be back. It’s tough on a 17-year-old to go through all that he has this year. He lost his father and then the recruiting thing, but he is such a wonderful kid, and such an important part of what we need. We play best when we play inside out, and tonight we did that. I thought (Kameron) Dozier’s 3-pointer really loosened things up for us.”
Howard got off to great start with the long ranger Demetrius Bowens and shifty point guard Marquez Williams hitting a pair of 3s each in the first half. Bowens added two more in a hot third-quarter start as Howard pushed it out to double figures after leading 23-18 at the break.
Bowens finished with 14 and Williams 12, but the Rams did a much better job on Howard’s rebound machine Telijah Snow and that was mostly a Bridgeman task.
Smith led a trio of Rams in double figures with his 17. Bridgeman added 10 and Amon Grace had 15.
Signal Mountain girls 41, Tyner 23: It was a very short post game meeting for the Lady Eagles as head coach Kendra Bell was short and to the point following a sloppy win for the top-seeded squad.
“We were very, very sloppy all night. If you can’t get ready to play in the semifinals of a district basketball tournament, I just don’t know what to say to them,” Bell said moments after her brief postgame talk.
Signal Mountain appeared to be looking ahead somewhat to a Tuesday night championship affair much in the same way Red Bank did in its earlier win and that probably upset Bell as much as anything.
“We talked about it before the game. This is a different season and you have to respect your opponent, but you have to respect the sport in general and I didn’t think the way we played did either. We didn’t come ready to play. We shot the ball horribly, we made horrible decisions with it, but thankfully our defense kinda showed up in the second half,” Bell said.
The Lady Eagles led by just two points after a back-and-forth first half (21-19) over a scrappy Tyner team, and whatever Bell told them at the half at least got them moving on the defensive end.
The Lady Rams scored just two buckets – one in each quarter – and the defending tournament champs outscored Tyner 20-4 in the final 16 minutes. Olivia Koontz led the Lady Eagles with 15 but admitted the team’s struggles on the floor.
“We had our share of hiccups tonight. We started out slow and we never really found a rhythm until that third quarter. Once we got moving some we shut them down, but we have to put this one in past. I think we will be more than ready to see Red Bank on Tuesday,” Koontz said.
Jaylah Hardy and Lamiah Walker each scored in double figures for the Lady Eagles with 10 each while Tyner had Jadiah Crumsey scored all 11 of her points in that first half.
Brainerd boys, East Ridge: The top-seeded Panthers have played almost their entire season one game at a time thanks to a really slow start (eight losses before Christmas), but hidden in the back of their collective minds was the district tournament run they were denied of last year.
After winning the regular-season title in unbeaten fashion last season, Brainerd was involved in an on-court fight with Austin-East which ultimately prohibited it from playing in the postseason via a TSSAA ruling. Runner-up Tyner won the district tourney and cruised all the way to the state tourney which made the sting even worse for the Panthers.
“I just think this team really has an appreciation for the opportunity to compete after what happened last year. They want to make the most of it,” said Brainerd coach Lavar Brown.
Brainerd definitely made the most of the semifinal bout against the upstart Pioneers thanks to one big run which doomed any hope of another East Ridge upset. The Pioneers earned their region spot by knocking off fourth-seeded Red Bank on Friday and seemed poised to pull a double until a 15-2 Brainerd run squashed those plans. And keep in mind; it was the Lions who were the only district foe to run the table on Brainerd this year.
East Ridge stood toe-to-toe with the champs and had it tied at 37-all when the Panthers hit their stride with the 13-point swing. Cavonte McKibbens’ 3 was followed by a Trey Owten deuce to make it 42-37 before Tyrone Martin’s bucket made it 42-39. Brainerd ran the third quarter out with a 8-0 run with Kevin Halfacre getting four of his 16 points in the time frame. Jonte Williams basket gave Brainerd its largest lead at 52-39 to open the final period.
Brainerd’s patented press provided most of the undoing for the Pioneers as the boys in orange struggled to move the ball and were forced out of rhythm.
“Coach Brown said we didn’t have enough energy and for us to pick it up, and what Coach Brown says he means. That was Brainerd basketball during the run,” said Halfacre after the win.
Brown agreed: “We didn’t have much energy tonight for whatever reason. We had two good spurts of basketball and that was the difference in the game.”
East Ridge battled to get it back to single digits, but Brainerd slowed it down and made seven of 10 free throws down the stretch to put it away. Trey Owten led the winners with his 19 markers and Halfacre had the 16. Alonzo Russell and Martin each had 10 for the Pioneers.
Brainerd 10 18 19 8 – 55
Red Bank 18 11 15 20 – 64
– Bradley 7, Ward 9, Thompson, Merritt-Sanders 8, Robinson 2, Jarrett 5, Kimia Carter 24.
RED BANK (64
) – Roberts 8, Savannah Washington 15, Pratt 4, Romans 6, Ware 2, Scott 8, Bailey Lee 21.
Brainerd 2 (Carter, Bradley); Red Bank 1 (Washington).
Tyner 8 11 2 2 – 23
Signal Mountain 8 13 10 10 – 41
– Cosby 3, Camp, McCutcheon 7, Crumsey 11, Long 2, Thomas.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN (41) – Jaylah Hardy 10, Kennedy 2, Sitton, McCann 4, Lamiah Walker 10, McCarter, Olivia Koontz 15.
3-point goals: Tyner 0; Signal Mountain 1 (Koontz)
Howard 12 11 11 7 – 41
Tyner 8 11 14 21 – 54
HOWARD (41) – Demetrius Bowens 14, Marquez Williams 12, Lowry 4, Thorne 3, R.Snow 2, James , Knight, T.Snow 6.
TYNER (54) – Kobe Smith 17, Amon Grace 15, Soloman Bridgeman 10, Hambrick 2, Gresham 3, Sturkey 2, Dozier 5, Holloway.
3-point goals: Howard 6 (Bowens 4, Williams 2); Tyner 2 (Dozier, Gresham)
East Ridge 14 14 11 11 – 50
Brainerd 14 19 17 11 – 61
EAST RIDGE (50) – Pollard 4, Tremble 6, Williams 3, Hudgins 3, Alonzo Russell 10, Johniken 5, Tyrone Martin 10, Garmany 9.
BRAINERD (61) – Trey Owten 19, Freeman 7, Kelvin Halfacre 16, Lattimore, Williams 6, McKibbons 3, Chaney 2, Ward 5, Evans 1, Jackson 2.
3-point goals: East Ridge 5 (Martin 2, Garmany, Johnikin, Hudgins); Brainerd 3 (Owten, Ward, McKibbens)
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)