With the TSSAA regular season wrapping up Monday night, the local basketball teams now turn their attention to district tournament play, where everybody starts out with the same record.
“We’re all 0-0 right now,” declared veteran Bradley Central coach Kent Smith after his Bears wrapped up their regular campaign last Friday. “The first round is do-or-die. You can’t take anybody for granted, no matter where they’re seeded. You lose that first game and your season is over.”
Teams advancing to the district semifinals are guaranteed at least three more games, the first two of which wil be played without the season-ending cloud hanging over their heads.
The top four teams from each district will advance to the region tournament, where only the champion and runner-up will survive for a shot at a TSSAA state tournament bid.
Seven of the eight local teams will open postseason play with a “win or go home” game, with the 23-2 Bradley Central Bearettes, ranked third in the final Associated Press poll this week, being the regular season champs, earning them the top seed in the District 5-AAA girls tournament.
With their second straight perfect district mark, coach Jason Reuter’s squad will await the winner of Friday evening’s battle between No. 5 Rhea County (19-8, 6-6) and fourth-seeded Walker Valley (14-13, 6-6), which just pushed the Bearettes to the brink in a 58-53 game last week.
The District 5-AAA action will tip off Wednesday evening at the Raider Dome with the second-seeded Lady Cherokees of McMinn County (17-7, 9-3) taking on No. 7 Soddy-Daisy (10-14, 0-12) at 6 p.m.
The boys tournament will follow immediately with the host Cleveland High (16-9, 9-3), the No. 2 seed, facing seventh-seeded Soddy-Daisy (9-16, 2-10).
On Thursday evening it will be the No. 3 seeds squaring off against the sixth seeds with Cleveland (16-8, 7-5) facing Ooltewah (5-19, 2-10) in the girls’ opener, before coach Smith’s Bradley squad (14-11. 8-4) battles McMinn County (9-16, 3-9).
Along with the Walker Valley girls playing Friday, the fourth-seeded Mustangs (15-11, 5-7) will also be in action against Rhea County (11-15, 5-7) with the winner turning around to take on top-seeded Ooltewah (16-8, 10-2) Saturday at 6 p.m.
The other semifinal games Saturday will have a possible Bradley-Cleveland boys matchup at 7:30, if both win their opening round games.
In the girls’ bracket, the Bearettes will take on the Walker Valley-Rhea winner at 3 p.m., while the host Lady Raiders, depending on their first-round results, could be in action against either McMinn or Soddy at 4:30.
The girls’ championship and consolation games are set for Monday evening, with the boys to do the same next Tuesday.
Despite falling to a pair of tough Hamilton Heights teams last night, Polk County coaches had to be encouraged by their teams’ improvement against the Chattanooga private school squads from the week before.
After a 23-point loss the previous week, the Wildkittens pushed the five-time NACA national champs in a 57-50 outcome, while the Wildcats were all even after three periods before the Hawks made a late rally for a 56-44 win in Benton. The Hamilton Heights boys had put a 37-point whipping on Polk the week before.
In the boys’ game, Polk held a slim 9-8 edge at the first buzzer before both teams netted 13 points in the second frame. The Hawks were able to pull even heading in to the final eight minutes, where they exploded on a 19-7 run to claim the win.
Wildcat senior Evan Ball drained a trio of 3-pointers, plus 3-of-4 free throws for a dozen points to lead the home team, while Chandler Hutcheson and Will Richmond helped out with nine and eight points respectively.
After a low-scoring (6-4) opening period, the international squad from Chattanooga used a 19-9 run in the second frame to build a big enough lead to hold off a late Wildkitten rally that trimmed a 13-point deficit to just seven by the final horn.
Emily Wilson had a strong Senior Night for Polk, hitting 4-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc and 3-of-6 in front of it, plus going 6-for-9 at the free-throw line for 24 points.
Riley Hatcher helped out the Wildkitten cause with 11 points, three rebounds and a half dozen assists. Rosa Haynes and Rachel Epperson grabbed four caroms apiece and netted seven and five points respectively.
The Benton squads will head to Athens Thursday evening as the District 5-AA Tournament will get under way at McMinn County High School.
The bad news for the Polk County teams is they have to participate in elimination “play-in” games as the fourth seeds. The good news is both ’Cat squads will be facing Sweetwater, whom they defeated twice during the regular season.
The Wildkittens (5-20, 2-6) will tip off at 6 p.m. against the Lady Wildcats (1-26, 0-8), while the Polk boys (6-21, 2-6) will battle Sweetwater (5-22, 0-8) at 7:30.
An opening round victory would give Polk a region tournament berth, while pitting them against top-seeded McMinn Central’s state-ranked squads in Friday’s district semifinals.
The third-ranked Chargerettes (23-3, 8-0) and 11th-ranked Chargers (24-3, 7-1) will face Thursday’s winners Friday evening at 7:30 and 9 respectively. The other two semifinal games have Meigs County and Sequoyah facing off at 4:30 and 6 Friday evening.
With Meigs playing in their final 5-AA tournament, the second-seeded Lady Tigers (23-5, 5-3) and No. 3 seed Lady Chiefs (18-7, 5-3), split during the regular season. Sequoyah (14-11, 7-1) is the No 2 seed in the boys event, having swept Meigs County (14-14, 4-4) in the regular season.
District 5-AA plays its consolation games on Monday with a championship doubleheader on tap Tuesday.
Hamilton Heights 6 19 18 14 — 57
Polk County 4 9 17 20 — 50
LADY HAWKS (57) — Teodora Zagorac 16, Ima Akpan 24, Paulauskaite, Savickaite 4, Savic 4, Kievisaite 6, Nwosu 3.
WILDKITTENS (50) — Emily Wilson 24, Riley Hatcher 11, Haynes 7, Epperson 5, Liner 3, Withrow, Johnson, McLain, McClary.
3-point goals: Hamilton Heights 5 (Akpan 3, Nwosu, Zagorac); Polk County 8 (Wilson 4, Haynes, Epperson, Hatcher, Liner).
Free throws: Hamilton Heights n/a; Polk County 12-of-23.
Records: Hamilton Heights 24-4; Polk County 5-20.
Hamilton Heights 8 13 16 19 — 56
Polk County 9 13 15 7 — 44
HAWKS (56)— Reno 6, Jhony Monterio 14, Rokas Paulaukas 14, Balogun 3, Hilary Huyler 10 Haji 1, Vaitkas 8.
WILDCATS (44) — Evan Ball 12, Hutcheson 9, Richmond 8, Groomes 6, Der. Weber 6, Dev. Weber 2, Coffey 1.
3-point goals: Hamilton Heights 5 (Reno 2, Vaitkas 2, Monterio); Polk County 5 (Ball 3, Groomes, Hutcheson).
Free throws: Hamilton Heights 7-of-13; Polk County 13-of-20
Records: Hamilton Heights 16-12; Polk County 6-21.