By Steve Williams
The region semifinal game.
For years it has been my favorite high school basketball game to watch at tournament time.
Why that one you ask?
The finality of it, something the region finals doesn’t have.
Lose in the region finals and you still have a berth in the Sectionals and a chance to advance to the state tournament.
Lose in the region semifinals and your season is over. There is no tomorrow.
That’s why I went to Oak Ridge last Monday and Tuesday. I saw the Bearden girls’ season end against Oak Ridge the first night and the Bearden boys’ season live for another day the next night.
In Division II of TSSAA basketball, the state quarterfinal game is comparable to the region semifinal game in Division I. It too is an elimination game.
Perhaps you got to see Katrina Wiens’ photograph in the Feb. 25 issue of The Focus. The thrill of winning could clearly be seen in the faces of the CAK Lady Warriors after they defeated University School of Jackson on their home court to secure a berth in the Division II Final Four in Nashville.
The Lady Bruins passed through Nashville that night on their long trip back home, after losing to CAK 62-59 in overtime. It was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve covered this season, because of the finality of it.
Fast forward to Oak Ridge …
I thought Jada Guinn’s poise down the stretch was the difference in the Lady Wildcats’ 50-43 win over Bearden. Her two clutch free throws with three minutes to go gave Oak Ridge a lead (41-40) it never relinquished. The Tennessee Tech signee also calmly sank both ends of a 1 and 1 with 37.6 seconds on the clock to stretch a three-point lead to five.
The Bearden boys’ win over Maryville was even more suspenseful. The Bulldogs looked sharp in building a 20-4 advantage in the first period.
Amazingly, the tough-minded Rebels caught up at 40-all with 5:20 left in the fourth period and would have taken the lead if 6-8 senior Elmo Gara had made a point-blank shot moments later. Sharpshooter Joe Anderson also missed a go-ahead 3-pointer on Maryville’s next possession.
The Rebels were still within three points with 37.6 seconds on the clock, but Bearden’s Shamarcus Brown got a huge offensive rebound after Ques Glover missed the front end of a 1 and 1. That sequence turned into an old fashion three-point play by Drew Pember and a more comfortable six-point advantage.
The final score of 55-43 didn’t tell the story. The Bulldogs got a scare. Their dream almost became a nightmare.
Such a thing has been known to happen in a region semifinal game.