In a back-and-forth battle, it was Tullahoma who made the final stand, coming away with a 56-49 home win over Riverdale in the opening round of the Region 4-AAA Tournament on Saturday.
“This just puts us at a different level,” Wildcats’ Head Coach Jason Welch said. “It showed that we can play with really good teams. They had a losing record, but they had won five of their last seven games, including beating Oakland. That’s a nice team over there… It was amazing tonight and I’m just super proud of our guys… All week, everybody in our locker room said, ‘We’ve got this Coach.’ These guys are fighters and I’m so proud of them.”
Following Saturday’s victory, the Wildcats (16-15) will take on Siegel (24-7) on Tuesday in the region semifinals. That game will take place at Lawrence County High School at 7:30 p.m.
Siegel enters Tuesday’s matchup coming off of a 77-53 home win over Lincoln County on Saturday. The Stars took second in the District 7-AAA Tournament, losing to Blackman 59-53 in the championship game.
“Siegel is big and athletic. They are easily a top 15 team in the state,” Welch said. “We played them this summer and they beat us by 18… It’s one game. They may beat us eight out of 10 times, but we just need to beat them once. We’ll see what happens.”
With 6:27 remaining in the contest, Riverdale guard Damon Fann hit a free throw, giving the Warriors a 38-36 advantage. Thirteen seconds later, Tullahoma started what turned into a 7-0 run, pulling ahead 43-38 and never trailed again from that point.
Krys Uselton and Jake Hollandsworth led off that run for the Wildcats after each player knocked down a shot. Ben Fulton went on to add three free throws – including two after a technical foul was called on Riverdale Coach Michael Voss – with 5:28 remaining in the ballgame.
Shortly thereafter, Fann made a pair of free throws, while Javon Nelson added one of his own, closing the Warriors’ deficit to 43-41 with 4 minutes left on the clock. Tullahoma countered by hitting seven of its next eight free-throw opportunities, in order to take a 50-43 advantage with 50-43 remaining the game.
Fulton hit three of those opportunities for the Wildcats, while Secrest and Hollandsworth each added a pair of their own. Secrest went on to put up two more free throws in the final two minutes of play, while Joe Duncan and Uselton netted the final points of the contest for the Wildcats.
Tullahoma only had two players – Secrest and Hollandsworth – who netted points in the first half. At halftime, Secrest had scored 13 points for the Wildcats, while Hollandsworth added nine points.
In the first quarter, Secrest and Hollandsworth each netted seven points, giving Tullahoma a 14-11 lead at the end of the first period. Secrest put up the final points for the Wildcats in the first half. Just before the second quarter ended, the Tullahoma guard netted a basket, giving Tullahoma a 22-21 lead heading into the break.
“Austin was hard to stop,” Welch said. “He got to the basket and was able to make his shots.”
Tullahoma was able to get more players involved on the offensive end in the second half. The Wildcats had five players hit at least one field goal in the third quarter.
However, third quarter saw five lead changes take place, including a late run that put Riverdale in front at the end of the third quarter. With 1:08 remaining in the third period, C.J. Johnson knocked down a basket and a free throw, giving the Warriors a 36-34 advantage that they took into the fourth quarter.
After tying the game twice, Tullahoma grabbed the lead for good with 5:28 remaining in the final period of play. Off of a steal, Hollandsworth converted his chance into points, hitting a layup, while being fouled to give Tullahoma a 40-38 advantage.
“Jake does all of the dirty work. We run our break and gets scores and baskets and we don’t run a lot of plays for him. He goes and makes play. He’s the heart and soul of us a lot of times. He and Joe do all of the dirty work and don’t get a pat on the back sometimes. But, they really battled hard tonight.”
It was the three Tullahoma seniors who led the Wildcats in scoring on the night. Secrest led Tullahoma with 19 points. Hollandsworth added 15 points, while Fulton netted 10 points.
“All I ever tell those seniors them is, ‘I wish I had them another year,’” Welch said. “I’ve enjoyed having them so much.”
Uselton added six more points for Tullahoma in the victory. Duncan capped off his night with four points and Will Partin rounded out the scoring for the Wildcats with two points.