(Story has been updated with District 5-3A tournament matchups)
Pushed into a must-win game to secure the highest possible seed to close out the District 5-3A regular season, East Hamilton’s girls shuffled their defense and got the effort needed Monday night to defeat McMinn County, 48-28, at East Hamilton.
The Lady Hurricanes, who lost 5-foot-5 senior Maleiah Moon for the second straight postseason to another knee injury, inserted 5-10 sophomore forward Eliziah Laboo into the lineup and the plan by coach Hunter Gremore paid dividends.
Leading 42-26 going to the fourth quarter, the Lady Canes (23-4, 8-4) held the Lady Cherokees (13-10, 6-6) to two points and got the win.
“We were very good defensively,” Gremore said. “It reminded me of last year when we had to grind it out on defense, get some scoring and win low-scoring games. I thought we might struggle tonight, but having three bigs on the floor rather than four guards turned out OK.”
The Lady Hurricanes, one win shy of tying a school record for wins in a single season (they have won 24 three times), nailed down the No. 2 seed and a spot in the semifinals for the tournament starting Wednesday at Walker Valley High School.
The Lady Canes tied Cleveland with an identical 8-4 district record, but won the tie-breaker in a coin toss last week as the coaches meeting in Cleveland.
East Hamilton won’t play until Saturday. Monday’s win, which avenged an early-season loss to the Lady Cherokees, also secured a berth in the Region 3-3A tourney to be held at Rhea Central.
The Lady Canes were led by Madison Hayes’ 19 points – she had coaches from Wake Forest and Georgia watching from the stands – and Laboo finished with 10 points.
East Hamilton (20-6, 9-3) used its game against the McMinn boys as a final tune-up for the tournament. Although the play was ragged at times by both teams, the Hurricanes withstood a late Cherokee surge and came out on top 78-68 behind the strong 24-point performance by senior DaVae Hughley.
The Hurricanes, trying to reach the boys’ state tournament for the second straight year, also will be a No. 2 seed in the tournament and, like the girls, have a bye into the semifinals.
Moon suffered a torn ACL in her right knee on Feb. 6, 2017, underwent surgery and missed the postseason. On Feb. 8, 2018, Moon tore the ACL in her right knee and will have surgery next Thursday. She attended Monday’s game, but will again watch the action from the sidelines.
“She’s our best on-ball defender,” Gremore said of Moon, “and one of the best kids I’ve ever coached.”
Laboo scored East Hamilton’s first points on a layup, but the Lady Canes went scoreless for five-plus minutes while turning the ball over six times and missed three shots.
Gremore’s girls held McMinn to three second-quarter points and went to the locker room with a 25-12 lead. East Hamilton used a 12-2 run to start the third period and that pushed the lead to 35-14. The Lady Canes started the scoring spurt with two straight back-door cuts for layups.
“Coach Gremore noticed they were overplaying us a lot, so he gave us those plays and we ran them right,” Madison Hayes said. “We felt we could win this game even though they beat us earlier in the year. That first loss motivated us for this one, but we still had to be focused and our defense was key tonight.”
DeZah Lacy, a sophomore point guard, said Monday’s win would help keep the Lady Canes focused for tournament play.
“We were really mentally focused tonight and we’ll have to play the same way in the district tournament,” she said. “We’ll be focused and our goal is to reach the finals and beat Bradley.”
Said Gremore, “We were able to figure some things out tonight with our lineup and we’ll probably have to grind it out and beat you on the boards. Tonight we looked a little lost with our offense because we weren’t used to having three bigs on the floor, but we got it back and I’m proud of the girls’ focus after that tough loss to Cleveland last week.”
East Hamilton’s boys went up by seven in the early action and used a 17-6 run in the second period to build a 41-23 advantage. Hughley, scored eight of the last 10 points in the spree on three field goals and two free throws.
“I was feeling it offensively,” Hughley said. “My teammates were setting me up perfectly in open spots on the plays we were running. This sets us up pretty good for the tournament.”
Hughley had a combined 18 points in the second and third quarters, including the last six in the third that extended the Canes’ lead to 59-44.
“Hughley was huge tonight,” East Hamilton interim coach Zach Roddenberry said.
McMinn (9-15, 5-7) had its best moments of the game in the fourth period as Taurean Jones scored nine of his 14 points and Sam Hammonds, Landon Wilson and Brayden Runyan each made 3-pointers.
Wilson matched Jones’ 14 points while Jake Elkins scored 13 and Hammonds 12.
Drew Williams tossed in 15 points and Cam Montgomery added 11 for the Hurricanes.
“This was all about execution tonight,” Roddenberry said. “We were sloppy at times, but a win is a win even if it’s ugly."
McMinn County 9 3 14 2 – 28
East Hamilton 11 14 17 6 – 48
McMinn County (28) – Pickel, Liner 2, Hannah Burns 10, Hennessee 2, Green, Manney 2, Hicks 3, Schiestel 1, Baxter 2, Gleaton 4.
East Hamilton (48) – Lacy 6, Suttles 6, Madison Hayes 19, McKenna Hayes 3, Zeh 3, Johnson, Abernathy, Eliziah Laboo 10.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 2 (Burns 1, Hicks 1), East Hamilton 5 (M. Hayes 2, Lacy 1, Mc. Hayes 1, Zeh 1).
McMinn County 17 10 17 24 – 68
East Hamilton 24 17 18 19 – 78
McMinn County (68) – Evans 5, Sam Hammonds 12, Landon Wilson 14, Runyan 5, Sharp 3, Jake Elkins 13, Brown 2, Taurean Jones 14, Buckner.
East Hamilton (78) – Wilson 5, Drew Williams 15, Cam Montgomery 11, Paisley 2, DaVae Hughley 24, Dozier 9, Schramm 6.
3-Point Goals – McMinn County 8 (Elkins 3, Hammonds 2, Wilson 2, Evans 1, Runyan 1), East Hamilton 3 (Montgomery 1, Wilson 1, Dozier 1).
District 5-3A Tournament
At Walker Valley
Ooltewah girls vs Soddy-Daisy, 6 p.m.
Ooltewah boys vs. Soddy-Daisy, 7:30 p.m.
Cleveland girls vs. Ooltewah-Soddy-Daisy winner, 6 p.m.
Walker Valley boys vs. Ooltewah-Soddy-Daisy winner, 7:30 p.m.
McMinn County girls vs. Walker Valley, 6 p.m.
McMinn County boys vs. Walker Valley, 7:30 p.m.
Girls semifinal (Bradley Central), 3 p.m.
Boys semifinal (Cleveland), 4:30 p.m.
Girls semifinal (East Hamilton), 6 p.m.
Boys semifinal (East Hamilton), 7:30 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 19
Girls third place, 6 p.m.
Girls championship, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 20
Boys third place, 6 p.m.
Boys championship, 7:30 p.m.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)