Highlanders prevail over Tigers

3-AA play-in loss ends PF's season
Feb. 12, 2013 @ 11:41 PM

The Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders’ basketball season is still alive after defeating visiting arch rival Pigeon Forge 70-50 in the District 3-AA Tournament play-in game at Jack A. Parton Gymnasium on Tuesday night.

An alleged prank by some G-P students saw a Blue-and-Gold flag flying on the Pigeon Forge flag pole Tuesday morning, along with some accompanying fliers http://preview.tinyurl.com/bxjuota taped to the side of the school proclaiming the impending end of the Tigers’ basketball season.
 
The prank sparked a flare-up of Tweets between rival students, and there was noticeable tension in the air at the new G-P gym prior to tip-off.
 
But the Highlander players (15-15) backed up all the trash talk by taking control on the court, eventually cruising to the 20-point win.
 
“It was do-or-die, and I felt like our guys responded,” said G-P coach A.J. Bennett. “That was the first time this season that we boxed out for a complete 32 minutes.
 
“We made them take some tough shots, we boxed out, they didn’t get any second-chance points, and that was the difference.”
 
Pigeon Forge coach Jonathan Shultz saw things much the same way.
 
“G-P came out and did the dirty work,” said Shultz. “They got the rebounds, they beat us on the glass, and that’s what it takes to win games.
 
“My hat’s off to (G-P) and the game that they played.”
 
The teams split of pair of instant-classic thrillers decided by a combined three points during the regular season, with both teams defending their home courts.
 
Tuesday night appeared to be another tough battle between the schools as Pigeon Forge junior Trevor Jain hit a layup and a pair of 3-pointers in the first 2:52, giving the Tigers (7-21) an early 8-2 edge.
 
G-P junior Steffan Schroeder stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer at the 4:44 mark of the first, cutting the Tiger lead to 8-5, and Highlander junior Clay Leatherwood knotted the affair at 10s on a trey with 3:03.
 
Pigeon Forge regrouped for a 15-12 lead when junior Jake Kingery sniped a three with 2:05 in the first, but G-P finished strong as Davis Soehn hit for four points and Schroeder nailed his second trey of the quarter at the buzzer for a 19-15 Highlander lead heading into the second.
 
The Highlanders never trailed again.
 
G-P sophomore Raj Bhula hit a 3-ball to open the second frame, giving the Highlanders a 22-15 lead, but the Tigers battled back and when junior Anthony Shular converted a fast-break layup with 4:45 until the break, and the game was knotted again at 24-24.
 
That’s when the Highlanders took over, finishing the half with a 15-4 spurt to take a double-digit 39-28 lead into the break.
 
G-P junior Christian Maloney, who had a big night with 14 points, grabbed a rebound and put it back in for a deuce to make it 30-24 with 3:09 in the half.
 
Soehn added five more points on two drives to the hoop, one of them for a three-point play to make it 35-28 with 1:16 in the half.
 
And Schroeder and Leatherwood closed with a layup and a pair of charity shots, respectively, to make it the 11-point halftime score.
 
The Tigers cut it to single digits once more when sophomore Ryan Beal grabbed a rare offensive rebound and put it back in to cut it to 41-32 with 6:27 in the third.
 
But when G-P’s Schroeder hit a fast-break layup with 4:09, the Highlanders were up 44-32 and led by double digits the rest of the way.
 
“I was very proud with how hard our guys played tonight,” said Bennett.
 
And while the Highlanders will advance to the first round of the district tournament, the Tigers’ often-frustrating season came to a close with the loss.
 
“Unfortunately, we didn’t hit enough shots this year,” said Shultz. “And defense and rebounding have to be your constants, and I’ve not been able to instill that in the guys this year.
 
“Defense and rebounding have to be there every single game. I felt like we did that whenever we scored, but when we couldn’t score we didn’t defend or rebound as well.
 
“I want to say I’m proud of my seniors, because they gave me four hard years. I appreciate all their hard work, and I appreciate their attitudes, and I’m proud of the young men they’ve become. “It’s tough to see them go out like this, but that’s basketball.”
 
As for the Highlanders, their work has just begun ... they hope.
 
G-P will next host the Gibbs Eagles (19-7) at 5:30 p.m. Friday night for a first-round district-tournament contest.
 
The Highlanders defeated Gibbs 73-71 in mid-January at G-P but were dominated 65-41 by the Eagles last Friday in Corryton.
 
“We didn’t play very well that last Friday,” said Bennett. “But I think our guys will be ready (for Gibbs).
 
“I love this team, and I love that they’ve never quit one time this year. I believe our best basketball is still ahead of us.”
 
Leatherwood led G-P and all players with 15 points, Schroeder tied Maloney with 14, Soehn had 13, Bhula had seven, junior Riley Trotter had four, junior Thomas Mackey had a deuce, and freshman Preston King had a charity shot in the win.
 
Jain led the Tigers with 12 points, senior Ben Vaughan had nine, juniors Peyton Marshall and Kingery had six apiece, seniors Kaleb Black and Austin McCarter along with sophomore Ryan Beal had five each, and Shular had a deuce in the loss.