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By GOOSE LINDSAY
There will be no third straight trip to the TSSAA Class A State Tournament for the Grace Christian Academy Rams. Harriman made sure of that Wednesday night as the Blue Devils knocked off the Rams 58-50 in the Region 2-A Tournament semifinals.
Wednesday's victory marks the second time this postseason that the Blue Devils have knocked off the Rams. Harriman had defeated the Rams 61-45 nine days earlier in the District 3-A Tournament played at Harriman.
Defense was the key to both victories. In Grace Christian's three postseason victories, the Rams averaged 72.7 points, but they averaged just 47.5 points in their two encounters with Harriman.
"I thought we played pretty well defensively," Harriman head coach Jeff King said. "To hold them to 50 points says a lot. They've got so many good shooters that it makes them really tough to defend."
Harriman's defense played well from the start, but it took almost a half before their offense hit their stride.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth in the first period with the Rams holding a 10-9 lead after eight minutes of play. The score remained tight through much of the second period with the score being knotted at 17 with less than three minutes to play in the half.
Harriman, however, ended the half on a 6-0 run highlighted by a final possession that ate more than 1:30 off the clock before Darius Gallaher scored from in close to end the half with the Blue Devils holding a 23-17 victory.
Harriman continued their run to start the second half. The Blue Devils scored the first five points of the third period to up their lead to 28-17.
Grace Christian did win the rest of the period, 10-7, to pull within 35-27 with eight minutes left to play.
The Blue Devils answered every Ram run in the final period to secure the victory. Grace Christian came as close as seven points, 50-43, with 58.7 seconds to play, but Harriman hit eight straight free throws in the final 51.8 seconds to seal the deal.
Harriman actually made 13 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter with Gallaher connecting on seven of eight.
Gallaher led the way for Harriman on the night with a game-high 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists.
"I think Darius played the best game mentally that he has played all year," King said. "He took what they gave him all night. He hit open shots, he made drives to the basket and he made great passes."
Dimitrique Inman (14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) also scored in double figures for Harriman while Laquinn Sawyer added eight points off the bench.
Stephen Wilson (12 points), Adarius Wilson (11 points) and Bryce Kendrick (10 points) all scored in double figures for Grace Christian.
With the victory, Harriman advanced to Thursday's Region 2-A championship game against Oliver Springs. The victory also secures the Blue Devils a berth in Monday's sectional round of the playoffs. A victory on Monday would give the Blue Devils a berth in the TSSAA Class A State Tournament.
Harriman (58) Inman 14, Gallaher 24, Steinmetz 4, B. Davis 2, Howard 3, Sawyer 8, S. Davis 3.