But in the final two minutes, Sullivan South regrouped while the Warriors’ well ran dry. The Rebels escaped with a 65-57 victory in the quarterfinals of the 1-AA boys’ basketball tournament Saturday at Bayless Gym.
South (16-11) advanced to take on Elizabethton (20-7) in Monday’s first semifinal at 5:30 p.m. The Cyclones stopped Sullivan North, 62-51.
In the 8:30 p.m. semifinal, top-seeded Unicoi County (23-5) will take on Johnson County. The Longhorns (13-12) beat Sullivan East, 57-53.
It was a big breath of relief for the Rebels to avoid the season-ending upset.
“I told the kids we felt like we skated by,” said South head coach Mark Pendleton. “The goal here is to win three games, so you regroup and learn from your mistakes and live to play on.”
Dalton Light, who led the Rebels with 21 points, said the players were getting a little antsy in the second half.
“You could tell the guys were a little scared and started pressing,” said Light. “That’s natural. But we stayed calm and started hitting our free throws, which was big.”
With Happy Valley leading 57-54 and just over two minutes left in the game, the Rebels started getting to the foul line while the Warriors started turning the ball over and missing shots.
Light made the Rebels only bucket in the final two minutes, but South connected on 7 of 10 free throws while the Warriors were unable to make a shot or get to the foul line — where they were 20 of 30 up to that point.
“We competed,” said Happy Valley head coach Chuck Babb. “We fought back. We had a really good third quarter, which is something we hadn’t been doing.”
Babb said his team rushed a few shots down the stretch.
“I told them to shoot,” said Babb. “I told them not to play scared, and if they got the shot in the moment, make it. There were a lot of freshmen and sophomores out there in a varsity game against a team like South.”
Corey Matherly started the second half with a 3-pointer, and later the Warriors went on an 8-0 run to take a 43-41 advantage with 1:32 left in the third quarter.
Trailing 47-46 late in the period, Happy Valley outscored South 7-0 to earn its biggest lead at 53-47 with six minutes to go in the game.
Happy Valley was led by Austin Hicks, who had 16 points. Josh Hammonds added 12 points while Brandon Young totaled 10 points and seven rebounds.
South got 16 points and eight rebounds from Will Blair. Christian Comsa added nine points and seven rebounds.