Tigers fall in regional final

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By The Staff




Roane Newspapers

It was a good news, bad news kind of night Thursday for the Rockwood Tigers.

The bad news was that Paul Kamikawa’s squad lost the Region 2-A title to Grace Christian Academy, 53-48.

The good news is that Rockwood’s season is not over and the Tigers will actually get to host a TSSAA Class A Sectional contest Monday against Cloudland with a berth in the TSSAA Class A State Tournament on the line.

Normally, losing a region championship game means hitting the road for the sectional contest, but the Region 1-A champion Highlanders were stripped of that right because they hosted last year’s girls sectional contest in their home gym and Cloudland’s home gym did not meet TSSAA seating requirements for a sectional contest. Thus the TSSAA placed Cloudland on probation and part of their punishment is making the 175-mile trip to Rockwood for tonight’s 7 p.m. contest.

Rockwood, however, would have much rather earned the right to play at home, but a 13-2 first half run by Grace helped the Rams avenge their five-point loss to the Tigers in the District 3-A Championship game.

Rockwood did start out okay as Garrett Raby, Matt Roberts and Jeff Inman all scored in giving the Tigers a 6-2 lead with 2:42 left in the first period, but the Rams would need less than five minutes of game time to take the momentum away from the Tigers.

Tournament MVP Ryan Slusher buried a three-pointer and scored five points in the final 2:19 of the period as the Rams rebounded to take a 10-8 lead after eight minutes of play. Slusher then scored the first five points of the second period as the Rams suddenly held a 15-8 lead with 6:17 left in the first half.

When Rockwood defeated Grace on Feb. 25, Raby shredded the Ram defense for a career-high 30 points, but the Rams took Raby away from the Tigers offense in the first half with David Amos face-guarding the Tiger star throughout the entire game.

Tiger head coach Paul Kamikawa wanted his team to take advantage of other match-ups, especially in the post with Raby struggling to get the ball, but his team had a hard time adjusting to the Rams defense.

“You can blame this one on me,” Kamikawa said. “I take full responsibility (for the offensive struggles). I wanted us to post up Slusher and (Cameron) Pridemore, but we never really got it and that’s my fault. I won’t make that mistake again.”

Even with the struggles on offense, Rockwood’s defense stayed strong in the first half and kept the Tigers within striking distance. The rest of the second period was played to a virtual draw with the Rams taking a 26-18 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The second half opened with Grace using a 6-2 run to take their biggest lead of the night at 32-20 with 6:27 left in the third quarter, but Raby suddenly came to life and the Tigers soon found themselves in the hunt.

Rockwood went on a 9-0 run with Raby scoring seven points to make the score 32-29 left in the third period. The two teams split 12 points over the remainder of the quarter to leave Grace holding a 38-35 lead with eight minutes left to play.

Grace pushed their lead to seven points, 44-37, with 4:20 left to play, but again the Tigers refused to quit. Raby scored twice in a 7-2 run that pulled the Tigers to within 46-44 with 2:34 left to play.

Rockwood, however, could never get over the hump as the Rams hit five of six free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.

Slusher led Grace on the night with 18 points and eight rebounds while Pridemore added 12 points.

Raby, who scored just four points in the first half, ended the contest with a game-high 21 points and three steals while Josh Brock added 12 points and eight rebounds.

Rockwood (23-6) will host Cloudland at 7 p.m. Monday while Grace (26-6) will host University School of Johnson City on Monday.

Rockwood (48) Raby 21, Brock 12, Gunter 1, Roberts 6, Inman 2, Dyer 2, Morgan 4.