With the region quarterfinals complete, three of four local high school basketball teams play on, each of them one step away from a coveted spot in the substate games that will be played on March 6 (girls) and March 8 (boys).
It was a good showing by local teams and athletes this weekend. Complete recaps can be found in the March 4 print edition of the Independent Herald. In the meantime, here are a few things we learned…
Lady Indians 90, CSAS 29
Good heavens, Kelsey Pike.
We all hate sports cliches, but indulge us just this one: Pike was en fuego against Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences on Friday.
Pike set an Oneida school record with 11 made 3-pointers … and she did it in the first half of the Lady Indians’ 90-29 win over the Patriots.
It’s hard to say which is most incredible: That Pike hit 11 treys as a sophomore, or that she hit all 11 of her treys (and scored all 35 of her points) in the first half.
Either way, it was one of the biggest halves of basketball ever for an Oneida Lady Indian — the greats like Brynae Laxton and Amanda Jackson not withstanding.
It was Jackson’s 3-point record that Pike broke in the second quarter of Friday’s game. Jackson made 10 threes in a game.
As for CSAS, it was obvious that the Patriots were making the long drive up Interstate 75 from Chattanooga to be a sacrificial lamb. CSAS had won only one game all season and didn’t have much of a chance against an Oneida team that has been dominant in district play this season. But the performance delivered by the Lady Indians was every bit as dominating as one might’ve expected, and then some.
The 90 points scored by Oneida was the most in … well, at least 20 years. You have to go back to some point in the ’90s to find the last time the Lady Indians scored 90 in a game, and we’re still looking. The closest they had come this century was 85 points scored against Gibbs during a Christmas tournament in 2005.
It’s easy for folks who didn’t watch the game to say, “Why did they run up the score?” But the truth is Oneida coach Marv West didn’t let his starters see the floor in the second half. If he truly wanted to pad stats, he could’ve left Pike in the game and let her make a run at the state record for 3-point shots. She would’ve probably set it, too. She was simply on fire, hitting seven 3-pointers and scoring 23 points in the first quarter alone.
However much fun Friday’s game might have been for Pike and the Lady Indians, they’ll have to move on quickly. Another elimination game awaits on Monday, and the opponent is a familiar one: Rusty Yaden’s Sunbright Lady Tigers.
Sunbright rolled south on Friday and dominated Copper Basin, winning 49-26. It was a lopsided showing that really wasn’t surprising; we entered this region tournament knowing there was one dominant team from District 4-A and District 3-A was otherwise the stronger district in the region.
The Lady Tigers were the preseason pick to win District 3, but Oneida has twice defeated them this season, each time by at least 20 points. If the Lady Indians show up on their home floor Monday with the same effort they’ve brought against every other district team on their schedule this season, they’ll run their winning streak against District 3 teams to 29 games. But they can’t afford to overlook Sunbright and start thinking about a potential showdown with Tellico Plains for a region championship on Wednesday. Because Yaden will have his team ready to play, and they’d like nothing better than to end the Lady Indians’ season short of the substate.
Northview Academy 72, Lady Highlanders 34
If you’re just looking at the final score of Scott High’s game against Northview Academy on Friday, you aren’t going to be impressed. The Cougars advanced to the region semifinals with a running clock in the fourth quarter, dominating the second half of the game.
But the final score didn’t tell the whole story.
The whole story was this: Northview, which defeated Scott High 70-26 in last year’s region quarterfinals, was heavily favored to win the game, and going on the road to hang tough against the Cougars would’ve been a monumental task for the Lady Highlanders, even at full strength.
But the Lady Highlanders weren’t at full strength.
Sophomore Zoey Terry, a starter at guard, was already out with an ACL tear, which she suffered earlier in the month. But on the way to Sevierville on Friday, sophomore Annalyne Woodward fell ill and wound up going to the hospital and missing the game. She is also a starter, and has been rapidly improving at the post position.
Scott High was also without sophomore Katelyn Butts and freshman Rachel Garrett, both of whom are recovering from concussions.
Yet, Scott High kept the game close through most of the first half. Down 11-7 late in the first quarter, coach Jake Wright used a time out to ask his team, “See? They’re human aren’t they?”
Northview was up 15 at halftime, 30-15, and it was apparent that the Cougars would win the game, but it was also apparent the Lady Highlanders weren’t going quietly into the night. With Scott at full strength, the game would’ve likely been nip-and-tuck at halftime. Northview would’ve still pulled away in the second half; the Cougars are simply too strong. But the key takeaway for Scott High is that the Lady Highlanders didn’t roll over.
The game was the last for two seniors who have been crucial to the Lady Highlanders’ successes this season: point guard Callie Carson and shooting guard Julia Butts. Carson was easily Scott High’s best ballhandler and a steadying hand against opposing teams’ pressing defenses, and Butts was the Lady Highlanders’ leading scorer.
How good Scott can be next season, as the Lady Highlanders move up a classification and into a new district, will largely depend on how players are able to develop offensively to replace Carson and Butts, who combined for nearly 1,400 points in their careers.
Scott High’s six wins this season are fewer than last season and won’t impress many. But the Lady Highlanders won the most district games that they’ve won in a decade, and recorded their highest regular season district finish in 25 years. For a program that is essentially rebuilding itself from the ground up, 2020-2021 was full of important developmental milestones for the Lady Highlanders. Now Wright will have the luxury of what he didn’t have in Year 1: A full offseason to work with his team, including summer practices and camps.
Oneida 70, Copper Basin 31
No one expected Oneida to fall to Copper Basin on Saturday, or to have any trouble putting the Cougars away at OHS Gymnasium.
Still, games are played on the court and not on paper — there’s the second cliche in this piece — and no one was happier to see the score on the board as the final horn sounded Saturday than the players and coaches from Oneida, who were eager to erase the bad taste from losing a district championship game to Harriman 72 hours earlier.
The Indians’ 39-point win was also a message to the Blue Devils and to their next opponent, top-seeded CSAS: If you felt Oneida was a team ready to dial it in after the second half collapse against Harriman, think again. The Indians are clearly looking for their third straight region championship, and clearly good enough to win it.
Here’s the biggest takeaway from Oneida’s win over Copper Basin: On a night when the four highest-seeded teams in Region 2-A all took care of their business, the Indians’ 39-point win was the largest margin of victory in the tournament.
What does that mean? Maybe a lot. Maybe not much. But it’s noteworthy, nonetheless.
Harriman, who will likely await the Indians in the region championship game if Oneida can get past CSAS on Tuesday, wasn’t exactly a slouch in its own right on Saturday. The Blue Devils defeated Sale Creek by 33.
But Sale Creek isn’t quite the team that Copper Basin is. The Cougars defeated the Panthers by 14 in the District 4-A consolation game earlier this week, and defeated them by 24 earlier this month.
Again, that might not mean much, when it comes to trying to figure out who would win a theoretical matchup between Oneida and Harriman next week. First, both teams will be attempting to get past their semifinal opponents.
The Indians’ surprise loss to Harriman in the district championship game means Oneida has to play the rest of the tournament on the road (unless Tellico Plains can pull off what would be an absolute stunner against the Blue Devils on Tuesday). That starts with a trip to downtown Chattanooga to face a very dangerous CSAS team. But the Indians — who ended the Patriots’ season on the same court last year in the region semifinals — will be making the drive down I-75 as a team brimming with confidence.
After all, CSAS lost to Copper Basin earlier this season (though the Patriots also drummed the Cougars in a game earlier this season). And CSAS was fortunate to escape against fourth-seeded Wartburg on Saturday. The Bulldogs trailed by just one point late in the game before losing, 65-60.
CSAS is good enough that Oneida won’t be able to get caught looking ahead to a potential rematch with Harriman. But if the Indians show up and play their game, they should be considered a favorite to win in Chattanooga on Tuesday.
Scott 63, Knox Carter 31
It’s not very often that the fourth quarter of a region quarterfinal game features a running clock because the road team is the one up 35 or more, but that was the case in Strawberry Plains on Saturday, where Scott High controlled its game against Knox carter from start to finish.
The Highlanders were in a similar position as Oneida on Saturday: their margin of victory was the greatest of any team in Region 2-AA. The Scott-Carter game, in fact, was the only game in the tournament’s quarterfinals to feature a running clock.
What does that mean? Maybe a lot. Maybe very little. But it showed that the Highlanders weren’t going to spend any time licking their wounds after a disappointing 16-point loss at Kingston in the District 4-AA semifinals.
In fact, the Highlanders have looked very impressive in their two games since that game against their arch rival, first jumping out to a 20-2 lead en route to a double-digit win over Alcoa in the district consolation game before putting together one of their best efforts of the season in another road game Saturday night.
The Highlanders, who have now won 10 of their last 11 games, used stifling zone defense in the first quarter to jump to a 10-2 lead, then began to force the tempo more successfully in the second half as they ran away with the game. By the time junior Trey Morrow slammed home a dunk with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter, the Highlanders were up 45-20 and the rest of the game seemed like a mere formality. But the lead eventually swelled to as much as 35 points, at 61-26, when senior Eli Storey was fouled on a made bucket late in the fourth quarter.
It all started with Scott High’s defense. Junior Luke West set the tone early, with four first quarter steals. The rest of the team fed off that energy, and Carter struggled mightily on the offensive end throughout the night.
Lest one should forget, Scott needed a last-second shot to escape Carter with a win earlier in the season. And while the Highlanders looked like the better team — Carter had lost three times to Austin-East, though all of them were close, and had also fallen to South Doyle, another team Scott High beat — the two teams appeared fairly evenly matched. Few people would’ve predicted a 32-point margin of victory for the Highlanders.
Kingston looked pretty sharp in its own right, defeating Northview Academy by 26 at home on a night that saw District 4-AA take three of the four games and come close to a sweep (Alcoa lost at Gatlinburg-Pittman by 11). That sets up a monumental showdown in Roane County on Tuesday.
After the two teams twice played to the wire in the regular season, Kingston turned in what might have been its best game of the season against the Highlanders in the district semifinals, controlling the game throughout and winning by 16.
A packed house in Kingston on Tuesday will create an epic environment and a decided homecourt advantage for the Yellow Jackets, as two bitter rivals square off with the loser’s season ending and a substate appearance awaiting as a reward to the victor. March Madness, indeed.