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By GOOSE LINDSAY
The Oliver Springs Bobcats have overcome a lot of obstacles on their way to the TSSAA Class A State Tournament, but they couldn't overcome 21 turnovers Wednesday in a 50-44 loss at the hands of Grace Baptist Academy of Chattanooga.
"I'm proud of them," Bobcat head coach Tony Ingram said of his team following the game. "I thought we played hard today, but we didn't take care of the ball very well today. We had 11 more turnovers than them (Grace) and that's too many possessions to give away."
In the early going it wasn't turnovers that had the Bobcats worried, but rather foul trouble to star guard Wesley Rather.
Oliver Springs jumped out to an early 7-4 lead thanks to five points from Lucas Tarver and a basket from Rather, but Rather picked up two fouls in the opening period and he would be forced to sit the final 1:15 of the opening period. By the time the opening period ended, the Golden Eagles had used a 12-0 run to take a 16-7 lead after eight minutes of play. The final four of those points came with Rather on the bench.
Sensing his team could face a first half knockout, Ingram rolled the dice and inserted Rather back into the contest. The gamble paid off as Rather and the Bobcats outscored Grace Baptist 15-7 in the second period to pull within 23-22 at halftime.
Rather led the second period charge with six points while Jordan Romero added five points off the bench.
"Wesley's a smart player and I knew he could play through it," Ingram said. "With us being down eight or nine points I knew we had to have him out there. If we're up eight or nine points in that situation he would probably sit the rest of the half."
The third quarter would remain close, but the Bobcats could never wrestle the lead away from the Golden Eagles. Oliver Springs did pull even at 27-27 with six minutes to play in the period thanks to a lay-up from Rather.
But just as soon as Oliver Springs pulled even, TSSAA Class A Mr. Basketball Finalist Brandon Herman caught fire. Herman scored seven straight points to give the Golden Eagles a 34-27 lead. Herman had scored just seven points in the first half, but scored a total of nine in the third period and that allowed the Golden Eagles to take a 38-34 lead into the final period of play.
"He's (Herman) a great player," Ingram said. "He's tough to guard and our foul trouble limited us with how we could defend him, especially in the second half."
Herman stayed hot in the final period as he opened the frame with back-to-back baskets that gave the Golden Eagles a 42-34 lead with 6:03 left to play.
Oliver Springs, however, wouldn't go away as Garrett Miller and Tyler harper combined for four straight points to pull the Bobcats to within 42-38 with 4:56 left in the game.
The Bobcats stayed within four points at 45-41 and had the ball before a turnover and subsequent three-point play from Herman gave the Golden Eagles a 48-41 lead with 2:24 left to play.
"We just couldn't get over the hump," Ingram said of the fourth quarter. "We cut it to four a couple of times, but we just couldn't make that one extra play we needed to get back in it."
After falling behind by seven, Oliver Springs never go closer than five points down the stretch.
Rather led the way for Oliver Springs with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Tarver added 10 points and eight rebounds. Harper was next in line with seven points and four boards.
Herman led the way for Grace Baptist with 23 points, seven rebounds and four steals while Taylor Wilson added 11 points.
Oliver Springs ends the season with a record of 22-11. Grace Baptist improves to 23-7 overall and will play Westwood in Friday's semifinals.
Oliver Springs (44) Tarver 10, Miller 5, Harper 7, Rather 15, Sweet 2, Romero 5.