Raina Karras was a diamond in the rough at the start of the season.
Last Thursday night at Heritage Middle School, the Mary Blount Elementary forward became a champion.
Karras sank three consecutive layups in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, and it made all the difference as the Lady Bears defeated Alcoa, 16-12, in the American Conference championship game of the Blount County Elementary Basketball Tournament.
Karras, named the American Conference tourney most valuable player, was basically a raw talent at the start of the season, Mary Blount coach Kelley Barbra said. She had good size and good hands. The rest Karras accomplished with hard work, Barbra said, helping the Lady Bears (9-1) avenge the season’s only loss in a regular-season meeting with the Lady Tornadoes.
“We just tried to find Raina Karras,” Barbra said. “We’d worked with her all season.”
The championship game reversal was a tough one, Alcoa coach Jason Boyd said, but the Lady Tornadoes, champions a year ago, have nothing to hang their heads about.
“We beat them in the regular season, but I’d rather have this one,” Boyd said. “I’m proud of these girls in that they hustled and played hard.”
Early on, it didn’t look as if the Lady Bears would need a closing scoring burst from their leader. Alcoa (11-1) was held scoreless in the first quarter and reached the half with a bucket from speedy guard Riley Hicks the only tally. Foul trouble would limit the Lady Tornado ace in the second half as Mary Blount built a 10-6 lead after three quarters.
“We knew they did a lot of pick and roll with the point guard (Hicks),” Barbra said, “and that they only had two or three girls that shot.”
The Lady Tornadoes raced back in it in the fourth, with Hicks, Madison McClurg and Katie Bean hitting for a bucket each. Karras struck for all six Mary Blount points in the finishing quarter to carry the Lady Bears to the title.
Karras led with a game-high nine points to pace Mary Blount, with Taylor Goforth adding six, Dalee Long a free throw. Hicks, McClurg and Bean finished with four each for the Lady Tornadoes.
Boys: Alcoa 45, Mary Blount 18
Tykee Kellogg scored all nine of the Tornadoes’ points in the first quarter, and the American Conference tournament most valuable player never stopped scoring the rest of the way.
Kellogg finished his night with 26 points, going 6-of-8 from the free-throw line, as Alcoa held a modest 9-4 lead after a quarter. A 12-point second period from the Tornadoes continued to widen the margin, with Kellogg raising the stakes with 10 in the quarter. It was 21-10 Alcoa at the half, a 37-18 margin after three all but ending things.
The Bears dealt the Tornadoes (11-1) their only loss during the regular season.
“We made some defensive adjustments after the last one,” Alcoa coach Brad McBride said. “We started hitting foul shots, and when you’ve got an athlete like Tykee . . .
“I’ve never had a group of kids that have played basketball for me that listened like they did.”
While Kellogg took care of things inside, Robinson Walsh had a big night for the Tornadoes on the perimeter, pumping in nine points, including a 3-pointer. Sam Gregg and Ivan Chambers had four points each for Alcoa, with Nick Roberts adding a deuce.
Slick point guard Jeremiah Murrell led the Bears with eight points, including a pair of 3-point bombs. Dre’ Minor had six and Isaac Norman four.
The fourth quarter proved a costly one for the Bears, the Tornadoes holding their opponents without a point in the period.
Coming up just short wasn’t the toughest thing about the game, Mary Blount coach Jennifer Boling said.
“It’s not about losing (the championship),” she said. “This is our last game together. Most of my team is fifth-graders, a great group of boys. I’m going to miss them.”
Girls: Lanier 31, Middlesettlements 25
The Lady Settlers never let up. Neither did Lanier star guard Kirsten Potenzy.
The National Conference tournament most valuable player Portenzy knocked down a single-game tournament
best four 3-pointers en route to finishing with 15 points in lifting the Lady Eagles to the title.
Portenzy drilled two of her 3s in the first quarter as Lanier got off to strong start. Kalee Best handled much of the rest of the Lady Eagles scoring, finishing with 15 to match Portenzy and Lady Settler Abby Moore for game-high honors. Sarah Cunning had a free throw for Lanier, which built a 15-6 at the half and 25-13 advantage after three quarters.
The Lady Settlers stormed back with a monster fourth, riding the scoring of Moore to get close. McKensie Henry had six for Middlesettlements, Sydney O’Hara and Katelin Burnett two each.
Boys: Middlesettlements 41, Fairview 35
Josh Dearmond has some awfully smooth moves for so young player.
The Settlers’ guard put on a crafty display of ball handling and timely scoring in securing National Conference tournament most valuable player honors. The kid’s got some real skills.
Dearmond’s 13 points weren’t a game-high. Justin Sailors went for a championship-game best 15, but it’s when Dearmond did his scoring that made all the difference.
Middlesettlements built an 11-5 lead after quarter, extending to a 20-12 lead at the half, at which point Dearmond, content to set up his teammates, had only four points. The Settlers’ marksman dropped in a 3 in the third as Middlesettlements revved to an 18-point quarter. Joseph Ridenour had six in the period en route to finishing 10 points. Sailors, Jimmy Dukes (four) added scoring all around.
“We only beat them by two in the regular season,” Settlers coach April Herron said. “It happens all the time. It’s just which team comes better prepared that day.”
The Angels found their wings in the final period, roaring back to get close with a 14-point effort. Anthony Mohr had eight of his team-best 11 points in the frame, with Logan Gredig adding four, Noah Jones and Bo Price two each.
A six-point fourth quarter from Dearmond enabled Middlesettlements to put it away, a second 3-point strike from the Settlers’ sharpshooters sparking the run to finish things.
“They’ve just played so solid all year long,” Herron said, “and Josh is just tremendous.”