Even Mother Nature couldn't put a damper on Cleveland High's Senior Night Tuesday, as the Raider squads claimed a pair of impressive victories over tough Oak Ridge teams in their final home games of the regular season.
In a second matchup of state-ranked teams, the No. 1-rated Runnin' Raiders overcame a slow start to pull away late for a 66-51 win over former Cleveland coach Aaron Green's eighth-ranked Wildcats.
Playing what head coach Tony Williams described as "probably our best overall game since I've been here," the Lady Raiders took command early to avenge a 19-point defeat in January, rolling to a 54-40 win last night at Raider Arena.
The Cleveland squads will turn right around and travel to Maryville tonight to take on a pair of 23-3 teams, with the Rebels ranked fifth in this week's AP state poll and the Lady Rebels receiving votes.
"We've got to go put together another one (strong outing) tomorrow in Maryville," proclaimed Coach Williams.
The Raider squads will close out the regular season Friday with a big trip to the north end of the county to square off with Walker Valley in the final District 5-AAA games before the tournament.
RAIDERS 66, WILDCATS 51
It didn't look much like a state-ranked matchup to start with as the teams combined to make just three of the game's first 13 shots, plus turned the ball over three times in the opening 3 1/2 minutes.
Cleveland (26-0) was able to edge out to an 8-5 advantage but went scoreless for the final 3:25 of the opening period as Oak Ridge (20-5) scored the period's final nine points.
The action wasn't much better to open the second frame as both teams missed their first four shots.
Once the buckets started falling, the hosts were able to chip away at the deficit, scoring four final-minute free throws to knot the score at 24-all at the intermission.
"That's the lowest we've scored in a half all year," related first-year CHS head coach Reggie Tucker. "We didn't take care of the ball. We had eight turnovers in the first half and had only eight all game up in Oak Ridge (in a 76-69 win on Jan. 18).
"I told them at halftime we had to take care of the ball better and we did (only four miscues in the second half, with none coming in the the final period)."
After the Wildcats scored the first half-dozen points of the third period, Cleveland exploded for 24-11 run for a 47-41 edge heading into the final eight minutes.
The visitors cut the difference to five with a free throw to open the fourth quarter, but that was as close as they would come with the Raiders running off 10 straight points to put the game out of reach.
"I challenge them every day," Coach Tucker remarked. "Our guys have the mentality, that we are going to bring it every night. We love one another and it's fun to watch.
"That's (OR) a really good team. We've played them twice now and AG (Coach Aaron Green) always has them ready to play.
"It was definitely a team win, a total team effort. At the end of the day we take pride in defense, and we played good defense tonight. They (OR) are a team that averages 73 (points) a game and we held them to 51 tonight. We got after it defensively," he praised.
"We got off to a slow start offensively (8-of-27 from the field). I told them to just keep going at it and the shots would fall. They did in the second half (13-for-26)."
Belmont signee JaCobi Wood ripped the cords for 26 points, handing out five assists, plus grabbed three rebounds and a trio of steals. Wood played the game in a pair of neon green shoes given to him by local seventh-grader Maguire Evans in memory of Wood's brother, Rondazz Mee, who passed away last May,
Junior Barkley McGowan helped out with 18 points and blocked a pair of shots, while classmate Grant Hurst joined Wood and McGowan with two 3-pointers apiece, on his way to 10 points.
Senior Morrell Schramm netted nine points, cleared seven caroms and handed out three "dimes."
LADY RAIDERS 54
LADY WILDCATS 40
After Oak Ridge (24-5) scored the game's first three points, Cleveland (18-9) went on a 22-2 run to close out the opening frame.
Coach Paige Redman's team fought back to trim the deficit to single digits just before the break, but after running the clock down, senior Bailey Anderson drove the lane and put up a shot that bounced off the rim, but came back through the net as the halftime buzzer sounded to give the hosts a 32-21 edge.
The Lady Raiders came out of the locker room strong with a pair of steals and eight points before the visitors could get off a shot. The 13-2 streak to open the second half took the wind out of the Lady Wildcats, who have played in three of the last four TSSAA State Tournaments.
After dropping in the first two buckets of the final frame, Cleveland sealed the upset at the free throw line, with Anderson sinking 5-of-6 in the final 5:48.
"We didn't take our foot off the gas, but when we slowed it down there in the final period that did slow our momentum down some," assessed Coach Williams.
"I can't say enough about it being Senior Night — Bailey Anderson, Megan Rouse and Raven Alvarado are the foundation of our program. So proud of them to come out in that situation and play the way they did."
Anderson finished with 20 points, six steals, three rebounds and a trio of thefts.
"That's the best I've seen Bailey Anderson play," the coach assessed. "Bailey's the motor of our team. She played inspired tonight. Whatever she ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I'm going to tell her to eat it again.
"When she's running smooth, and playing her game, everything else seems to fall in place."
Junior Kara Williams' had another strong night, draining a half-dozen "long-range bombs" on her way to a game-high 21 points, four ricochets, a couple of helps and a steal.
"Shooters are going to shoot. Kara's had some games this year where she's shot it well, but she hasn't had any games like tonight," her dad and coach stated.
"You want to be clicking when the time comes to be clicking and we played probably our best overall game since I've been here tonight," Coach Williams declared.
Tuesday, Feb. 11
at Raider Arena
Oak Ridge . 5 . 16 . 9 . 10 — 40
Cleveland . 22 . 10 . 13 . 9 — 54
LADY WILDCATS (40) — Khamari Mitchell-Steen 19, Bri Dunbak 11, Hearon 4, Holt 2, Eckles 2, Clark 2.
LADY RAIDERS (41) — Kara Williams 21, Bailey Anderson 20, Raven Alvardo 5, Rouse 4, Person 3, Chestnutt 1, Droke, Jackson.
3-POINTERS: OR 4 (Mitchell-Steen 3, Dunbak); CHS 8 (Williams 6, Anderson, Alvarado).
FREE THROWS: OR 8-of-10; CHS 7-of-12.
RECORDS: Oak Ridge 24-5; Cleveland 18-9.
Oak Ridge . 14 . 10 . 17 . 10 — 51
Cleveland . 8 . 16 . 23 . 19 — 66
WILDCATS (51) — Jeremy Miller, Jonathan Milloway 13, Isaiah Johnson 7, Preston Tuern 6, Jonathan Stewart 6, Kell Slater 6, Shanklin.
RUNNIN' RAIDERS (66) — JaCobi Wood 26, Barkley McGowan 18, Grant Hurst 10, Morrell Schramm 9, Dale 3, Whaley, Hall.
3-point goals: OR 2 (Stewart); CHS 6 (Wood 2, McGowan 2, Hurst 2).
Free throws: OR 13-of-16; CHS 16-of-20.
Records: No. 8 Oak Ridge 20-5; No. 1 Cleveland 26-0.