In what has been a tough season for a young Hixson Wildcats basketball team, the past five days have been absolutely fantastic.
After getting their first win of the season last Friday over Signal Mountain, the Wildcats now officially have a winning streak after pulling off a come-from-behind overtime thriller over host East Ridge 63-62 Tuesday night in a District 6-2A match-up.
Freshman Kaden Herman hit a floater in the lane with ten seconds left in regulation to extend the game, and then the game-winning lay-up with 16 seconds remaining in overtime after a steal and assist from teammate TJ Earls, another freshman.
Herman led all scorers with 21 points, while Justin Smith followed with 17 and Braxton Burton chipped in 11.
“It’s been a wonderful five days; it’s been a long time coming,” Hixson coach Lawanza Crutcher said with a smile that stretched ear-to-ear.
Hixson (2-15, 2-12) never led in regulation, instead fighting back from multiple double-digit deficits to within a few points and a couple of ties in a roller coaster contest. But after a season full of lows that would cause a lot of teams to have checked out mentally weeks ago, it was that fighting spirit that Crutcher was the most proud of.
“I just told them a few minutes ago that with the season we’ve had, they could’ve quit a long time ago. But as young as we are, my message to them all season is that every day is another day to get better, and we’re preparing not just for now, but for the future,” said Crutcher, whose team only has one senior and two juniors. “Don’t give up on themselves or on what we’re trying to do, just stay with the process.”
“I’m extremely proud of these guys because they’ve stayed with each other and believed in each other and continued working as a team every day.”
It looked like it would be all East Ridge (2-19, 1-13) early, as the Pioneers – who won by 31 over Hixson a month ago – came out of the gates with an 8-0 run and led 21-10 after a period. Calvion Robinson scored eight of his 13 points in the quarter.
Hixson made its first run in the second quarter. After the Pioneers opened up their largest lead of the game at 24-12, the Wildcats rattled off ten straight points – highlighted by 3-pointers by Burton and Earls – to cut the margin to two. In what would become a theme, however, the Pioneers would hold off the charge and go into halftime up 28-25.
Yet again East Ridge made it appear as if they were going to finally run away from the visitors, starting the second half off the way they did the first with an 8-0 run to pull ahead by 11 points. It was the DeAngelo Hudgins show for the Pioneers in the period, where he scored 10 of his 21 points.
But the Wildcats wouldn’t go away, instead closing the quarter out with a 10-3 run of their own to make the score 43-41 with one quarter left in regulation.
That quarter would be a see-saw battle throughout. After having only tied the game up once near the end of the third quarter, the Wildcats pulled even again at 53-53 with 2:37 to play when Burton made 1 of 2 free throws. East Ridge’s Rodney White countered with a deuce to wrestle the lead back, and the teams traded free throws to set the score at 56-54.
With the clock winding down, Herman made a nifty floater off the glass with ten seconds to go to tie the game. On the ensuing possession, Hudgins was fouled, sending the senior to the line for a 1-and-1. He missed the front end, sending the game to overtime.
Smith put back an offensive rebound at the start of overtime to give Hixson its first lead of the game. Robinson followed with a bucket and then made two free throws to yet again take the lead back for East Ridge.
Burton put the Wildcats back ahead on a baseline drive with 1:22 remaining, but Hudgins calmly knocked down both free throws just seconds later to flip the lead one more time. After a turnover by Hixson with about 20 seconds to go, it appeared as if the Wildcats would have to foul to extend the game.
Earls’ defensive play changed all of that. The freshman stole the inbounds pass and hit Herman under the basket for the game-winner. East Ridge had one final chance, but couldn’t get a long 3-pointer to fall as the Wildcats celebrated the victory.
“We missed some assignments early in the game and gave up some early baskets, but we did a good job of getting defensive pressure in the second half,” said Crutcher. “I just kept telling them we had to get over the hump.”
East Ridge coach Tre High – who has four seniors, but also 13 freshman on a roster of 19 players – wasn’t happy with his team’s end-of-game decisions. But he hopes this will add to the lessons his team can take away from its season as they hope to grow in basketball maturity.
“We just have to learn from it and keep on moving. Like I said earlier in the season, we have to take baby steps,” said High. “We don’t know enough basketball yet. Once we gain a little bit of basketball IQ, we’ll be fine.”
After a couple of non-district games for each team to finish out the regular season, they will battle with the other teams in the all-Hamilton County district tournament that begins next week at Signal Mountain.
Hixson Girls 36, East Ridge 26: The Lady Wildcats overcame an early deficit against a feisty, but winless, Lady Pioneers team to earn a comeback ten-point victory. Hixson’s Kirby Brown led all scorers with 20 points, while her teammate Makayla Strickland added 12.
East Ridge got off to a fast start, jumping out to an early 11-3 lead. The Lady Wildcats clawed back before the end of the first period and closed the gap to five points.
Neither team could find much rhythm offensively in the second quarter, combining to score just ten points. East Ridge made a conscious effort defensively to deny the ball to Brown at the high post, holding her scoreless for the period. The Lady Pioneers held a slim 15-14 lead going into halftime.
They extended that lead to five points with two quick baskets to open the third quarter. That’s when Hixson finally began to find the bottom of the basket. The Lady Wildcats outscored the home team 12-1 for the remainder of the period – including scoring six points in the final minute – to take a 26-20 lead into the final eight minutes.
East Ridge scored the first two points of the final stanza to draw within four points, but that’s as close as they would get. A reverse lay-up in the lane by Brown, followed with a steal and fast-break lay-up just seconds later highlight an 8-0 run by the Lady Wildcats in a minute and a half that gave them a comfortable 34-22 lead on their way to victory.
Cheerie Gamble led East Ridge with 12 points.
GIRLS GAME SUMMARY
HIXSON 36, EAST RIDGE 26
HIXSON 8 6 12 10 -- 36
EAST RIDGE 11 4 5 6 -- 26
HIXSON (36) – Kirby Brown 20, Makayla Strickland 12, Bellamy 2, Sullivan 2, Nakata, Alford, Pretzer, Johnston.
EAST RIDGE (26) – Cheerie Gamble 12, Williams 6, Jaquaia Reynolds 4, Moton 2, Harvey 2, Kennebrew, Stafford, Austin, McGee, Bassett, Jaquila Reynolds, Wade.
3-POINT GOALS: None
BOYS GAME SUMMARY
Hixson 63, East Ridge 62
HIXSON 10 15 16 15 7 -- 63
EAST RIDGE 21 7 15 13 6 -- 62
HIXSON (63) – Kaden Herman 21, Justin Smith 17, Braxton Burton 11, Hickman 6, Earls 5, Wesley 3, Davis, Delafaente.
EAST RIDGE (62) – DeAngelo Hudgins 21, Calvion Robinson 13, Devon Anderson 10, White 7, Smith 6, Foster 3, Fonseca 2, High, Adair.
3-POINT GOALS: Hixson 4 (Burton 2, Hickman, Earls); East Ridge 4 (Hudgins 2, Smith 2).
(Contact Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com)