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Swervin’ Blake Ervin

Junior’s basket puts Heritage in first district championship game since ’78
Mountaineer forward Blake Ervin banks in the winning basket with four seconds remaining Friday night at Maryville. Photos  by Wallace Bowden


By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Maryville took a chance.

Ervin, far right, heads to the Heritage bench after the go-ahead basket.

Ervin, far right, heads to the Heritage bench after the go-ahead basket.

Andrew Pryor saw it and kept going. Blake Ervin got to his spot.

With four seconds left, Ervin spun to his left and banked in a soft 8-footer high off the glass, and the Heritage boys’ basketball team knocked off host and top-seed Maryville, 55-54, in a District 4AAA semifinal Friday night at James Campbell Gymnasium.

The win lifts the Mountaineers into the district championship game for the first time since the 1977-78 season, the first year of the school.

Heritage (23-11) meets second-seeded and state No. 2-ranked Bearden (27-2) in Tuesday night’s title game at 7:30. The Rebels (22-6) and Lenoir City (17-13) tip in the consolation game at 6.

The Mountaineers dealt the Bulldogs one of their two losses this season, 44-41, early last month in Knoxville.

Pryor and center Keenan Berger led Heritage with 15 points each on the Mountaineers’ big night. Brandon Davis and Ervin followed with eight apiece, with Calvin Keeble adding five, including a huge fourth-quarter 3-pointer.

District player of the year Easton Upchurch did his part of the Rebels, leading with a team-best 15 points. Andrew Petree came up big with 12. T.D. Blackmon and Jake Headrick had eight each.

Petree’s two free throws with 11 seconds remaining lifted Maryville to a 54-53 lead. When Heritage inbounded, the Rebels went with the full-court pressure they’d used all game in an attempt to get the Mountaineers to play faster.

Hunter Bailey celebrates the win with Keenan Berger (40) after Berger's block of an Easton Upchurch shot at the horn sealed it.

Hunter Bailey celebrates the win with Keenan Berger (40) after Berger’s block of an Easton Upchurch shot at the horn.

After breaking the press up the left side, Pryor glanced at Heritage coach Bill Duncan, who motioned his point guard to keep going.

“I saw them squeezing down on Andrew, so and I told Blake, ‘Go!’” Duncan said. “They (the Rebels) were trying to scramble back, so I didn’t want to call a timeout to figure out what play to run.”

Pryor had that covered.

“I thought coach was going to call a timeout,” he said, “but I got the ball in Blake’s hands and I had all the confidence in the world.”

Ervin made doubly sure the shot was on target, using the glass.

‘We talked about it,” he said. “My teammates trusted me to take the last shot. I just tried to do what I could to make the basket. I saw the lane, so I went.”

The Rebels got a last look at it, but Berger got there to get a hand on a final offering from Upchurch, the ball falling harmlessly to the court as the horn sounded.

A barnburner was in the offing right from the start. Paced by Davis and Berger, the Mountaineers pounded the ball inside to take an 11-8 lead after a quarter.

Petree’s two free throws marked the only time Heritage trailed.

With both teams in man-on-man defensively, Maryville battled back to trail, 24-20, at the half. Little changed after three, the Heritage lead at 41-37.

Berger tries to get to the basket against Maryville's Bryce Miller.

Berger tries to get to the basket against Maryville’s Bryce Miller.

“I don’t think we were aggressive enough to start the game,” Maryville coach Mark Eldridge said. “We were sharing the ball, but we weren’t aggressive enough looking for shots.

“The team that affected the game the most was going to be the one that was aggressive, and we didn’t do a good job at that.”

At the 3:41 mark of the fourth, the Heritage advantage at 45-43, Keeble drew a charge at the defensive end to get the Mountaineers the ball back. Heritage senior Hunter Bailey converted on a baseline drive at the other end for some breathing room.

The much-needed bucket was Bailey’s only points of the night.

Maryville pulled even at 47-all on a Petree runner in the lane and a pair of Upchurch free throws with 2:52 to play. Keeble answered dramatically for Heritage a minute later, a feed from Pryor setting up a wide-open 3 from the corner.

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