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Finally, Heritage

Mountaineers claim program’s first district title in overtime thriller
Heritage senior Blake Ervin reacts after the Mountaineers defeat Bearden for the title on Tuesday at West. Photos by Wallace Bowden

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Knoxville — J.P. Pearson isn’t likely to be the first name that comes up when talk turns to an historic night for Heritage boys’ basketball in coming years.

Without him, though, Bearden maybe never slows from an explosive start. The Mountaineers never steady themselves and rally. Heritage’s dramatic, 67-64 overtime win over the Bulldogs in the District 4AAA championship game Tuesday night at West High School maybe never happens.

Blake Ervin went off in the fourth quarter and overtime, en route to a team-best 26 points, and the Mountaineers withstood everything the Bulldogs could throw at them in winning the first district championship in the history of the boys’ program.

Heritage (21-12) hosts Knox Central (20-11) in a Region 2AAA quarterfinal Saturday at 7 p.m.

The highest surviving 4AAA seed from Saturday’s quarterfinal games hosts the region semifinals and finals.

“Everybody talks about winning,” Heritage coach Bill Duncan said. “That’s not the deal. It’s the will to win; that’s the difference.”

Heritage put four players in double figures Tuesday, Brandon Davis adding 15 points, Cameron Allison 14 and Lee Yates 10. Ervin, Davis and shooting guard Calvin Keeble were each named to the all-tournament team, Allison the selection as the tournament’s most valuable player.

“A lot of emotion went into that,” Ervin said.

Pearson didn’t score a single point, but, as the Mountaineers clawed their way back from a 10-2 Bearden game-opening burst, his contributions defensively were critical.

The Bulldog backcourt of Quez Fair and Trent Stepheny was burning Heritage up off the drive at the start. Fair went on to pump in a game-high 32 points, including a 3-pointer to tie at the end of regulation. Stepheny was next best for Bearden with 16.

Cameron Allison lays one in en route to being named tournament most valuable player.

Cameron Allison lays one in en route to being named tournament most valuable player.

As Ervin, Davis and Allison brought Heritage back on the offense, Pearson pilfered Fair for back-to-back steals on defense, one a beautiful run-by, reach-back theft to thwart a Bearden fast break.

If only for the briefest of moments, the Bulldogs backed out of the throttles. Heritage played like the champion it would become the rest of the way.

“That was a great game,” said Bearden coach Mark Blevins, adding this is likely his last season with the Bulldogs. “Coach Duncan and Heritage deserve all the credit. They played a sensational game. I’m proud of both teams.”

Yates, on a feed from Ervin, pumped in a deep 3 from the left side at the halftime horn, pulling the Mountaineers within 26-25 at the break. Little separated the combatants after three quarters, Bearden holding a 40-37 lead to start the fourth.

A trademark of Duncan’s teams at Heritage is knowing when to pull the ball out and when to attack the basket. Inside the final minute of regulation, Ervin, Allison and Davis each powered to the rim at every opportunity.

“I saw an open lane,” Davis said. “We wanted to increase the lead so we didn’t have to keep going back and forth.”

Little did anyone know.

Heritage led, 57-54, after a Yates free throw with 12 seconds remaining. Fair sank a high-arching trey from the left side with a couple of seconds left to send the game to overtime, the shot tipped by Ervin.

“We just had to focus and play for each other,” Allison said.

Following two Ervin free throws with eight seconds remaining in overtime, Fair dashed to the other end to get off one last 3 from the top of the key. When the shot clanged off the rim, there was Pearson, in amongst the trees with two seconds left, collecting the rebound to make sure it was over.

The 2015-16 District Champion Heritage Mountaineers: Levi Burnett, J.P. Pearson, Calvin Keeble, Prater French, Lee Yates, Blake Ervin, Brandon Davis, Cameron Allison, Jose Gallego, John Wagner, Timmy Sholtz, Tony Crowe.

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