A sequence with just under two minutes to play in Wednesday’s District 3-A championship game spoke volumes.
Down four, Oneida fouled Harriman point guard Brady Stubbs, sending him to the line for one-and-one. Blue Devils coach Shay Shannon opted to pull his players back, leaving Stubbs by himself at the line against four Indians.
Stubbs missed the front-end of the one-and-one, but somehow managed to get the rebound off a deflection, and was fouled again.
The second time at the line, Stubbs missed the second free throw … but again managed to snag the rebound, despite being by himself. He was fouled again, and hit both of the subsequent free throws, as Harriman’s lead grew from four to seven.
That was the story of the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s championship game, as the Blue Devils proved their overtime win against the Indians in the regular season finale was no fluke, escaping OHS Gymnasium with a 57-52 win.
Harriman played like a team determined to do everything it could do and anything it needed to do to win a championship, and was rewarded by hoisting the championship plaque after losing three straight to Oneida in the postseason dating back to the 2019 region championship game.
Suddenly, it is the Blue Devils — who had won 14 of their last 15 and have now beaten Oneida two out of three times this season — who are in the driver’s seat in Region 2-A. And it’s the Indians who face an uphill battle in their quest to get back to Murfreesboro.
Wartburg Lady Bulldogs Coach Jason Davis has said before that he would rather win the region tournament than the district tournament. Most other coaches would say the same. Except for seeding in the region tournament, a win in the district championship doesn’t mean a whole lot, while a win in the region championship earns you the right to host a substate game. In a normal year, winning a region championship is far more important than winning the district championship.
But this isn’t a normal year, and the loss to Harriman in the district championship now means the Indians will have to pick up some road wins if they’re to get back to the state tournament, as opposed to having homecourt advantage throughout the postseason.
If Oneida and Harriman meet for a third time this season, it will be on the Blue Devils’ home court, where Harriman defeated the Indians with an overtime buzzer-beater two weeks ago.
But just to get to that point, Oneida will have to defeat the District 4-A champion in an elimination game on Tuesday night — assuming both teams advance past Saturday’s quarterfinal games.
That’s where things stand after Harriman overcame a double-digit first half deficit to stun the Indians on Wednesday. Oneida’s goals weren’t ended by the loss to the Blue Devils, but the road to Murfreesboro did suddenly become more difficult and littered with obstacles.
If Oneida had won, it would have avoided Harriman and District 4 champion CSAS in elimination games in the region tournament. Instead, those two teams would’ve squared off in the semifinals and the Indians would’ve been left with either Sunbright or Tellico Plains — two dangerous teams, to be sure, but neither of them quite as dangerous as CSAS or Harriman.
Now, however, it’s the Indians who will have to tangle with CSAS in an elimination game, and Harriman who will face the Sunbright-Tellico Plains winner.
First, of course, Oneida has to get by Copper Basin on Saturday. On paper, the Indians clearly have the upper hand. The Cougars have won only seven games all season. But one of those wins was over CSAS, which Copper Basin had lost to earlier in the season by 34.
That game, played on Jan. 28, is a head-scratcher; an anomaly in what was otherwise a routine season in District 4-A. But, even in the quarterfinals, losing to Harriman makes the road tougher for Oneida. While Copper Basin lost to Tellico Plains by 22 in the district semifinals, the Cougars have defeated Sale Creek — which is now Harriman’s first round opponent — three times this year, by an average of 15 points per game.
As for CSAS, the team the Indians will probably face in the semifinals if they can get by Copper Basin, the Patriots have proven that they’re no slouch, coming within a breath of upsetting a very good Boyd Buchanan earlier this season and holding their own with Chattanooga Christian, a team that nearly knocked off York Institute at Christmas.
If the Indians want to avoid having their season end prematurely, they’ll have to defeat CSAS in downtown Chattanooga Tuesday night. They would then need to go on the road to Harriman 48 hours later and win again in order to avoid what would likely be a trip to North Greene for the Class A substate game.
Murfreesboro is still on the horizon for Oneida, but the road to get there has gotten much narrower and littered with potholes.