G-P sweeps past Pigeon Forge
Friday night marked the Pigeon Forge Tigers first trip to their arch rival’s new digs.
The Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders did not play kind hosts.
The G-P girls started the evening with a 64-40 thrashing of the once-dominant Lady Tigers, while the Highlanders’ boys (13-9, 3-5) scored a comeback for the ages by overcoming five-point deficit in the final 1:21 to win 70-69 over boys in Orange and Black (5-13, 1-6).
Steffan Schroeder netted a career-high 30 points in G-P’s come-from-behind victory, including a miraculous 17 points in the final eight minutes of play.
“It’s a big rivalry game,” the junior forward said. “(My big night) is thanks to my teammates. They just passed me the ball, and I was on it. I was shooting, I was open, and they just passed me the ball.”
Schroeder gunned in a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth, including two in the final 30 seconds of play, to deliver the miracle win for the Highlanders.
“Steffan’s a warrior, and we’ve got a bunch of (warriors),” G-P coach A.J. Bennett said. “But the thing about him the last couple of games, he’s been there to carry the offensive load when we’ve needed him to.”
With the score 64-60 with just over two minutes to play, Schroeder made a huge steal and drove to the basket for a layup to cut the score to 64-62.
But Pigeon Forge answered with a Jake Kingery drive to the basket and a free throw to extend the lead to five points, 67-62, with 1:21 to go.
A Gabe Hinton offensive rebound put-back again narrowed it to a one-possession game for the Highlanders at 67-64 with a minute left.
That’s when the bottom fell out for the Tigers.
Missing 3-of-4 free throws allowed a Schroeder 3-pointer with 28 seconds left cut the lead to to 68-67, and another 1-of-2 trip gave the Tigers just a two-point lead with the clocks final seconds wearing down.
After a timeout, G-P was looking to tie.
“We had hoped that we were going to get an easy two points,” Bennett said. “But (the Tigers’ defense) jumped the middle, and (Steffan) was open, and we’ve got a saying, ‘if you’re open take it.’ And he did, and he knocked it down.”
Schroeder’s final shot from the left corner hit nothing but net and G-P had their first lead since the first quarter at 70-69 with just seven seconds left.
Pigeon Forge couldn’t answer, and it was a G-P win.
Schroeder described the final shot just minutes later.
“It felt good (when I shot it), but I didn’t know if it was going to be short, but it went in, and I was like, ‘nice.’”
Depsite the big win, coach Bennett doesn’t want his team to get too excited.
“Pigeon Forge is Pigeon Forge, and you can’t tell the kids otherwise, but to us (coaches), it’s another district game,” he said. “We beat Gibbs the other night, and I told them tonight we’d either take another step forward or take a step back. There’s something about this team. You could feel it Tuesday after we pulled it out (against Gibbs), our luck’s changing, and sometimes you can use some luck, and it was magic tonight.”
Beyond Schoeder’s 30, G-P got 18 points from guard Clay Leatherwood.
Raj Bhula added nine big points, all in the second half. Davis Soehn had seven, Hinton had four and Christian Maloney tallied two.
Trevor Jain, who had a great defensive game blocking shots, led the Tigers with 17 points. Teammate Ben Vaughan had 15, followed by nine aach for Ryan Beal and Kaleb Black. Peyton Marshall had six, Skylar Gibbons and Jake Kingery five each and Kolby Black had three.
The girls game wasn’t as close, as the District 3-AA-leading Lady Highlanders (17-4, 8-0) had their largest win in years over the Lady Tigers (10-5, 4-3), 64-40.
Senior Karsen Sims and sophomore Haris Price were both hot for G-P, scoring 20 points apiece in the win, which was close until the Lady Highlanders blew things open in the third quarter with good passing and sharp shooting.
“We worked a lot this week on shooting, and we also worked on ball movement, and late in the second half it just really started clicking for us,” G-P coach Katie Parton said. “We were just getting wide-open looks. The girls were really coachable, because those were all things we really talked about this week in practice.
“Overall, top to bottom, I think we played a great game. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Pigeon Forge coach Paul Reagan was obviously displeased with the results.
“Our legs got to us,” he said. “We played well the first quarter, and then our conditioning kind of got to us.
“G-P played better than us, right now G-P’s better than us.
“I hate saying that, it’s embarrassing,” he continued. “I can’t stand losing to G-P. But I’ll say this, they should go to state.
“They’ve got some great players. Karsen Sims is a heck of player, a Division I player. I respect her so much, she’s a great player. And those three girls from Maury (Middle School, in Jefferson County) are super as well.
“When they play their best, they’re hard to beat. Those girls earned it. They deserved it tonight.”
The Lady Highlanders held Pigeon Forge to 11 second-half points, and three in the final quarter.
Behind the 20-point outings from their leaders, G-P got seven points from Macee Tinker, five from Dannie Luczak, four each from Micki Werner and Bethan Sutton, three from Hunter Price and one from Julia Maloney.
Mindy Brackins led Pigeon Forge with 12, while Callie Clabo added nine in the loss.