The high school basketball season for Blount County’s four schools played to a close Tuesday night, with Alcoa’s Tornadoes, the final remaining team, falling to district rival Stone Memorial in a region tournament semifinal at Fulton.
The Tornadoes (23-7), Maryville Lady Rebels (19-13) and William Blount Lady Governors (21-12) each advanced to the regional semifinal round, each delivering thrilling quarterfinal wins to get within a game of sectionals.
The Lady Rebels overcame an injury depleted roster to stun host Hardin Valley, 33-27, last Friday night. With point guard Rebekah Singleton lost for the season with a shoulder injury late last month and senior and Belmont signee Torie Vault battling a sprained knee, Maryville got 10 points from junior Miranda Maples to move to a semifinal clash at familiar district foe Farragut.
The Lady Admirals ended the Lady Rebels postseason run, 64-44, on Monday.
The region tournament semifinals became an All-District 4AAA affair when William Blount shocked perennial state power Oak Ridge, 48-47, on the road last Friday. Junior shooting guard Tatum Burstrom paced the Lady Governors with a big night of 20 points and the game-clinching steal as time expired. The win earned William Blount a rematch with Knox West in the region semifinal, where the Lady Governor run ended with a 58-36 loss at West on Monday.
While the Tornadoes, the last surviving boys’ team, were eliminated from postseason with a 65-58 loss to Stone Memorial on Tuesday, a 59-57 overtime thriller to bounce longtime rival Austin-East from the region tournament on Saturday is still worthy of a look back.
The Tornadoes made ready for the visit from the Roadrunners with back-to-back overtime tilts at the District 4AA tournament at Scott High. The district title game, a 51-49 win over Christian Academy of Knoxville, went two overtimes. Tornado junior Matt Shown was named the tournament’s most valuable player as Alcoa produced Blount County’s lone district title this season.
When the Roadrunners came calling, the Tornadoes had one more extra-session barnburner left in them before hitting the road.
“I’d rather go home after 32 minutes,” Alcoa coach Micah Marsh said, “but our guys believe they can win.”
Getting the balanced scoring that had become its trademark this season, Alcoa trailed its postseason nemesis, 42-41 after three quarters. It was at about that time the Brandon Lopez Show really began to kick in.
The senior Roadrunner guard unleashed a storm of scoring, pumping in 11 consecutive points in the closing minutes as Austin-East took possession with 28 seconds remaining, the score knotted at 51-all. Lopez would finish with 38 points on the evening.
Carson-Newman football signee Steven Isom paced a balanced Alcoa assault with 17 points, with junior point guard Tre Tate adding 13, Shown 12. It helped offset a night where the Tornado offense came largely in frequent starts and stops.
“At one time in regulation, we had three straight turnovers,” Marsh said, “and I think we were even up one. What helped us is we kept getting stops to give us a chance.”
Lopez’s exploits cooled somewhat when Marsh put the Tornadoes in a 2-3 zone defense for the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
“He (Lopez) was killing us in man,” Alcoa sophomore Kenny Dean said, “so coach Marsh put us in a zone.”
Dean made his first attempt at being the game’s hero for the Tornadoes with a steal in front of the Roadrunner basket with 2.2 seconds remaining. In the extra session, a 3 from Isom put Alcoa out front, 56-55, with 51 seconds left, only to see Lopez collect a steal and go the distance for a 57-56 Roadrunner lead seconds later.
Isom squared things again with a free throw with 13 ticks remaining. After a charging call on the Roadrunners beneath the Austin-East basket returned the ball to the Tornadoes with 6.4 seconds remaining, Dean was clutch one last time.
The Tornadoes got the ball to Shown on the left block out of a time out. A soft half hook rolled off the rim to the right, with Dean knifing his way through a maze of players to tip the ball back onto the glass and through the netting as the horn sounded, sending the Alcoa student section pouring onto the floor in celebration.
“Shown had the layup,” Dean said, “and I remember coach Marsh saying the last time they beat A-E it was on a tip in.”
It’s always the little things that win the close ones.
“I always tell our kids, ‘On the last shot, go crash,’” Marsh said. “‘Don’t watch the game.’”
It was sure a doozy from the stands.