Gatlinburg-Pittman boys hold off Catholic in region quarterfinals

Feb. 22, 2014 @ 09:44 PM

 The Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders will live to play another day after an 80-73, do-or-die region quarterfinal victory against the Catholic Fighting Irish on Saturday night at Jack A. Parton Gymnasium.

"I’m just happy for our kids," said G-P coach A.J. Bennett. "It’s been a while since we’ve got to the region semifinals. I’m happy for the seniors, and I’m happy for this team.

"We went through a bit of a slump, but we kept practicing and kept fighting hard, and it’s starting to pay off late in the season."

After a back-and-forth first half that saw 15 ties and lead changes, the Highlanders (22-9) took charge early in the second half.

With the Highlanders holding a slim 42-38 lead, G-P senior Clay Leatherwood — who had just two points in the first half — scored five quick ones in a 19-second span on a layup and a trey to suddenly give G-P its biggest lead of the night at nine points, 47-38, with 4:35 left in the third.

The Highlanders earned their first double-digit lead of the night, 57-47, on a Christian Maloney field goal with 6:47 to go.

The Fighting Irish (9-20) made it interesting with back-to-back 3-pointers by senior Ryan Henry and sophomore Eli Cox to cut the G-P lead to 76-71 with 43.7 seconds to go in the game.

But G-P seniors Steffen Schroeder and Thomas Mackey went a combined 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in the final 40 seconds to hold a miracle Catholic comeback bid at bay.

The Highlanders gained control of the contest in the second half with their fast-paced game plan.

"Catholic likes to slow the game down and run a lot of motions and sets, and that’s not our strength," said Bennett. "So we just said we’re going to run for 32 minutes, and if they can run with us, then so be it.

"But we felt like if we could keep that tempo up, we would be successful in the end. We wanted to get to 80 points, and we got exactly to 80. That was the difference."

The Highlanders will attempt to earn a sectional berth with another elimination contest 6 p.m. Tuesday night at Alcoa High School. G-P will play Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Schroeder not only helped hold off the Irish with some clutch play on Saturday, he also scored his 1,000th-career point during the first half and was awarded a basketball trophy for the accomplishment by coach Bennett at halftime.

Mackey led G-P with 20 points on the night, Schroeder finished with 19, and Leatherwood was the other Highlander in double-digits with 11. Maloney and junior Gabe Hinton scored seven points apiece, senior Noah Clinton scored six on a pair of second-quarter treys, senior Riley Trotter had five, freshman Zayquan Gillespie had four and sophomore Jeremiah Maples added a charity shot in the win.

Catholic junior Jordan Anderson led the Irish and all scorers with 21 points, Henry had 16, freshman Chase Kuerschen had 12, senior Nick Macri had 10, freshman Davari Reeder had five, senior Logan Irwin had four, Cox had three, and junior Austen Rhoades had a deuce in the loss.

G-P's girls basketball team will also play in a region semifinal against CAK at 6 p.m. Monday at Alcoa.