By Steve Williams

My favorite night at high school basketball tournament time has for years been the region semifinals.

This is the game, I believe, when the pressure is the thickest. A win takes a little of the pressure off as it puts a team in the region finals and guarantees a sectional berth.

If things went according to the seeding in this past Saturday night’s quarterfinal action in Region 2-AA – that is, if Carter took care of business against Scott High and Fulton turned back Northview Academy – the Hornets and Falcons will be squaring off Tuesday night, Feb. 27, at Alcoa in one of those semifinal pressure cookers.

And on top of that, the game will have an interesting storyline as it will match veteran Fulton head coach Jody Wright against the Hornets’ Aaron Carter, who at 25 years old has to be one of the youngest head coaches in the state.

I observed Coach Carter for the first time when his Carter team pulled away from Union County 81-54 last week in the District 3-AA finals. He patrolled the sideline like a veteran, even though this is his first season as a head coach.

“They took a chance on me being a first-year head coach,” said Aaron after the title win. “For these seniors, it’s their third head coach in four years.”

Prior to this season, Carter’s coaching experience included four seasons as an assistant coach at Rush Strong Elementary School just up the road a little ways in Strawberry Plains and the last two years as an assistant at Cocke County High School.

“I love it here,” said Aaron, a Grainger High grad. “These people are great. This community, they deserve it (the championship). The kids deserve it. And that’s what makes it all worth it. It was awesome in here tonight.”

The Hornets were impressive, particularly in the second half as they raced up and down the court much like they did in the days under former coach Joby Boydstone.

All that was missing was one or two of those windmill, throwdown slams by former Carter great and current Tennessee standout Jordan Bowden.

Adam Hurst, a senior leader on this Hornet squad, said he believes the region tourney will come down to Alcoa, Fulton or Carter winning it.

“We played Alcoa and Fulton in a Thanksgiving tournament at Central,” he said. “We picked up the victory against Alcoa but fell short against Fulton.”

Was it close?

“No, we didn’t play well,” he remembered. “They got us pretty good.”

But the way the Hornets played in the district finals, Hurst was feeling good about his team’s chances in the region.

“I definitely feel like we have a very good shot at winning the region,” he said.

Coach Carter also said he liked where his team was as February Frenzy ends and March Madness nears.

So, if you’re looking for some basketball drama Tuesday night, check the schedule. There could be a 6 o’clock shootout between the Falcons and Hornets at Alcoa.

And it’ll be the region semifinals!