Like a senior in late-game crunch time looking to take charge, Brainerd's Demetrius Kitchens demanded the ball in that situation Tuesday. Then with as much surprise as the Panthers blowing a 19-point second-half lead, the middle of East Ridge's defense opened wide at the wrong time.
His demand of receiving the ball met, Kitchens took it to the basket for a finger-roll layup that fell through the net shortly before time expired, and Brainerd claimed the District 6-AA boys' high school basketball championship with a 63-62 victory on its home court.
In Region 3 quarterfinals Saturday, Brainerd (23-9) will host Meigs County in the District 5 consolation game and East Ridge (21-10) will host McMinn Central.
On the strength of a 23-point third quarter, East Hamilton pulled away from a halftime tie with Red Bank and won 48-35 in the girls' final.
East Hamilton (21-8) will host Polk County and Red Bank (11-15) will host Meigs County on Friday in region quarterfinals.
East Ridge battled back from a 44-25 deficit beginning in the final two minutes of the third quarter. The Pioneers managed to tie it at 56, then took their first lead since 14-11 on Eddie Hitchcock's 3-pointer with 12 seconds to play.
Brainerd coach Robert High said he had hoped for better contesting of the Pioneers' 3-point shooting that got them back in the game but admitted his troops may have tired. The coach called time out after Hitchcock's field goal, and next came Kitchens' heroics.
"I wanted the ball in my hands," said Kitchens, who was motivated to atone for Brainerd's loss to Red Bank in last year's district final. "I saw an opening and just drove the lane. I'm feeling so happy -- too happy. We're district champions."
It's at least the 20th in High's 36 seasons on the bench.
"I haven't won any of them," High said. "Brainerd has won them."
Jeulian High led the Panthers with 17 points and Kitchens added 16.
Chris Green scored 18 in the second half and led the Pioneers with 24. Hitchcock scored 16.
East Hamilton's girls got successive 3-point goals from Jessica Caudle and Airyelle Belle and a free throw from Brynn Moon to go up 24-17 coming out of halftime. The Lady Lions closed within 30-26 at the 3:05 mark on a three-point play by MiShannon Wilbanks, who scored 24 points, but a 14-2 run started again by back-to-back 3s led to the largest lead at 16 points.
"We came out in the second half, hit a couple of 3s and that got us going," East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. "I think we won the war of attrition. And when you make shots, it puts the pressure on."
Junior Tiffany Lewis didn't score until making a 3-pointer with a little more than three minutes to go in the first half, but she ended up leading seven East Hamilton scorers with 14 points. In the process she became the first for the third-year varsity program to reach the 1,000-point mark.
The district-tournament championship is East Hamilton's second consecutive. Brainerd's Lady Panthers were 12-0 in the district regular season but were suspended from postseason play by the TSSAA because of a fight that occurred with Howard at the end of a game in last year's district tournament.
"We have to play the schedule that's before us," Morris said. "I feel bad Brainerd couldn't be in it, but when it rolls down to it, I've got to coach my team."
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.