The East Ridge Pioneers came out in the second half of their District 6-AA basketball tournament semifinal Saturday pumped, as through they had just been motivated by one of the nation's most inspirational coaches. Or the next-best thing.
Whatever lit the spark, the Pioneers looked like a different team in turning around a seven-point halftime deficit into a three-point lead at the end of three quarters on the way to a 57-49 victory over Howard at Brainerd.
No. 1-seeded Tyner played Brainerd in the late boys' semifinal.
On the girls' side, third-seeded Red Bank won 33-31 over Tyner, which had beaten the Lady Lions by 20 points eight days earlier. Top-seeded East Hamilton, which had defeated Central by 19 points in December and more recently by 41, found itself with a three-point lead late in the third quarter before finally disposing of the Lady Purple Pounders 54-44.
The tournament resumes Monday night with girls' and boys' consolation games at 6 and 7:30. Finals are Tuesday at the same times.
East Ridge boys' coach Jon Goddard said he had watched the movie "Miracle" earlier Saturday and admitted to borrowing some lines from the portrayer of Herb Brooks, the hockey coach who guided the U.S. to Olympic gold in 1980. The 20 points his Pioneers scored in the third quarter were two more than they scored in the first half.
"We challenged their manhood," Goddard said of the talk at halftime. "We weren't playing with any emotion or intensity. You can't beat a team like Howard the way we were playing in the first half. A couple of good things happened to them early in the second half and things fell into place after that."
Chris Green had two points heading into the fourth quarter and ended up leading East Ridge with 11. Eddie Hitchcock scored 10 and Alfonzo Cox and Eric Traylor contributed eight each.
The Pioneers had trouble with Hustlin' Tigers center Brandon Walters, who finished with 24 points but went scoreless in the fourth quarter. Anthony Smith made his three 3-point shots and totaled 10 of his 12 in the final period.
"Howard hasn't been a strong outside perimeter team all year," Goddard said. "We tried to force them to take outside shots, but in the first half our communication and our blocking out were terrible."
Red Bank's girls led by one when Tyner missed a shot and the rebound ended up going off one of the Lady Rams and out of bounds with 10.3 seconds to play. The Lady Lions inbounded to MiShannon Wilbanks, who was fouled at 6.8 seconds.
She made the first free throw for her 17th point but missed the second. Tyner tried pushing the ball up the floor quickly to set up for a final shot, but LaVaughsia Pittman foiled the plans with an interception at midcourt that sealed it.
"We showed some physical and mental toughness, but I think more than that we did the little things we've been preaching all year," Red Bank coach Brandon Crews said. "Who could get the key rebound, or make a stop, or make the key free throws? Tonight it all clicked. It was one of our better games."
Tiffany Lewis led East Hamilton's victory with 19 points, 16 in the first half.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.