By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Just when it looked like South Fulton would break through, the Red Devils broke down instead.
A missed free throw in the waning seconds of regulation that could’ve ended a decade of frustrations instead allowed Union City to force overtime, and the fifth-ranked Golden Tornadoes then pulled away for a 75-63 victory over SF in the District 14A semifinals Friday night at Trenton.
UC (21-6) not only extended its run of consecutive series wins over South Fulton to 23 straight, but also secured a berth in tonight’s tourney championship game opposite Humboldt (21-6) as well as a host role in the Region 7A Tournament that begins Friday night. The Twisters will play either Huntingdon or West Carroll in their first-round regional game.
The Red Devils (17-12), meanwhile, will face Lake County (5-21), which lost to H’boldt 64-59 in Friday’s second semi, and then play on the road at either McKenzie or Dresden in Friday’s regional quarterfinals.
Union City’s curse over SF appeared to be in serious jeopardy Friday night when Tevaris James converted a feed from Clint Wells into a layup to put the Redmen up 61-58 with 40 seconds left. The Tornadoes then missed a pair of game-tying 3-point attempts and made just one of two foul shots at the 21-second mark to leave their deficit at two points.
The Devils’ Harrison Hawks — one the Big Red’s best free throw shooters — was then sent to the stripe with 17 seconds showing for a one-and-one and his team clinging to that 61-59 advantage. Hawks’ toss was errant, though, and UC rebounded and went end-to-end with Jamie Hyde making a layup to even the count at 61-all with nine seconds left. Both teams then missed low-percentage attempts to sent the game into OT.
The Twisters got the overtime tip and seized immediate control against an obviously-deflated South Fulton bunch.
Malik Stockdale converted a momentum-building old-fashioned 3-point play a little more than a minute into the four-minute period and Donte Simpson rammed home a dunk off a Marcus DeBerry miss as Union City scored the first eight points and never looked back while outscoring SF 14-2 in all.
The Devils committed five turnovers in the OT.
“Our kids have been in a lot of these situations, and I just think that experience was crucial,” Tornado head coach Shane Sisco said afterward. “When we were able to get it into overtime and then get a score on that first possession, I thought it gave us a great shot of confidence.
“I don’t know how much of it is mental or if anything in the past had anything to do with what happened tonight. That’s a good basketball team that we beat — an extremely talented one. And it feels good to be back in the championship round after having to play in the consolation game the last couple of years.”
On the other bench, South Fulton’s Wes Miller admitted he thought the Big Red’s futility run vs. the Twisters was all but over.
“I almost turned to my assistant and said, ‘We’ve got em’ right before Hawks shot the free throw,” the SF coach said. “Then, when we got in overtime, I could tell we were in trouble mentally. You’ve got to think that you can win, and I believe some doubt started to creep in at that point.
“We had a chance. We missed seven free throws, and that hurt. And to be real honest, while they’ve not all been this way in the past, I feel we beat ourselves more tonight than they beat us.”
Union City, which made five 3-pointers in the first period, led by as many as eight points (33-25) midway through the second quarter and by as many as seven (43-36) in the third frame.
Stockdale had 10 first-half points for the Tornadoes, while both McManus and Wells each also hit for double figures for South Fulton over the first two frames.
Free throw shooting woes hurt UC in the second half with a combined 10 misses during the third and fourth quarter aiding the Red Devil cause.
Buckets by T.J. Ingram and Hawks late in the third stanza evened the count and set the stage for a back-and-fourth final eight minutes of regulation
SF, which regularly beat the Twisters’ fullcourt pressure for layups, led by as many as three on a couple of occasions before Khiry Lewis’ stickback evened the count at 56 with just under three minutes to play. Ingram and DeBerry swapped buckets to forge another tie with 1:35 to go before McManus made a foul shot to give the Devils a one-point edge with just 74 seconds to go.
“I thought we had a couple of chances to get a little separation there in the second and third quarters,” Sisco added. “And though we didn’t convert, we were able to get to the line a bunch in the second half. We might not have a true post game, but we stress being aggressive and attacking the rim. Not making the foul shots just seemed to be contagious in the second half.”
UC hit 16-of-31 from the line in all — 10-of-15 in the overtime. South Fulton hit 8-of-15 for the game.
Stockdale and Simpson scored 17 apiece and both Hyde and DeBerry added a dozen markers for the winners.
McManus finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots to top the SF summary sheet. Wells tallied 15 and James finished with 12.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 2.18.13