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Gone In 20 Seconds

Bailey’s late burst lifts Mountaineers clear of Halls
Heritage’s Blake Ervin, most valuable player of last week’s district tournament, gets off a shot in traffic in a Region 2AAA quarterfinal win over Halls on Friday. Photos by Brandon Shinn

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

When Heritage needed something big late, Hunter Bailey was there for the Mountaineers – on three consecutive possessions.

Keenan Berger lofts in two more

Keenan Berger lofts in two more

The Heritage senior sandwiched back-to-back buckets around a forced five-second call at the defensive end with four minutes remaining.

The burst provided the necessary breathing room, the Mountaineers turning up the defense and the free-throw shooting the rest of the way in a 54-47 win over Halls in a Region 2AAA quarterfinal Friday night at Heritage.

Next for the Mountaineers (24-11) is a semifinal meeting with No. 1-ranked Oak Ridge (27-2) tonight at 7:30 in the Atomic City.

“It’s going to take an unbelievable effort,” Heritage coach Bill Duncan said, “and we know that.”

Maryville (23-6) meets Bearden (28-2) in the other semifinal at 6.

The region championship game is scheduled for Sunday at 3:30.

The Mountaineers held a 42-41 advantage with 3:54 to play Friday before Bailey got to the basket to produce a three-point bulge. On the ensuing Halls possession, he extended defensively to force a five-second call on an unsuspecting Red Devil guard.

Back at the offensive end, Bailey put back his own miss for a 46-41 Heritage lead, all of it done in a spirited 20 seconds of play.

“We knew we had to make a move,” Bailey said. “We’re a pretty confident team. I didn’t know (the official) was counting. We just knew we had to ‘D’ up”

The Mountaineers have been a stronger team since Bailey returned from a knee injury in December. It’s “unbelievable” what it’s meant, Heritage point guard Andrew Pryor said.

“He’s fighting through so much,” Pryor said. “This is his last go round, and he’s just fighting through it. Even a few minutes help us so much.”

Jake Long makes a move up the baseline.

Jake Long makes a move up the baseline.

The Mountaineers had a noticeable size advantage against Halls in 6-foot-8 center Keenan Berger, and the Heritage big man pressed home the advantage for a team-best 19 points, all with Halls collapsing with a triple team on every touch.

Blake Ervin, most valuable player of last week’s abbreviated district tournament, pumped in 14 points on a series of well-timed baskets. Jake Long, clutch at the line late, finished with 10, Bailey seven.

Braxton Moore was the only Red Devil to reach double figures, finishing with a game-high 24 on the strength of five 3-pointers.

Telling was Heritage limiting Halls to a single field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Red Devils threatened to break it open early, Halls extending to a 20-12 lead with seven minutes to play in the opening half. Berger reeled Halls in with his scoring inside as Heritage stuck with the plan.

“They fouled me every time I got the ball in the post,” Berger said, “but I’m used to it.”

At the five-minute mark, Ervin banged home the first of three 3s on the evening, pulling the Mountaineers even at 21-all. An even bigger night for the fast-rising junior was held in check by foul trouble throughout.

It was all square, 29-29, at the half, Halls edging out front, 40-37, at the end of three.

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