Robert High put the pressure on his players, letting them know it was his 34th season as head coach of the Brainerd High School boys' varsity basketball team and each of his previous teams managed to advance to a region tournament.
With the acquisition of a region berth in the balance Friday at Brainerd, his players then went out and put the pressure on East Hamilton.
High's Panthers ended up breaking away in the second half and defeated the Hurricanes 62-45, keeping High's streak intact.
Semifinals are today at East Hamilton starting at 3:30 p.m. Fourth-seeded Brainerd (15-13) will play at 8 in the last game against top-seeded Howard, which beat Central 66-48 on Friday.
Before the boys' game at Brainerd, the third-seeded Lady Panthers (19-9) cruised past Hixson 57-21. They will take on second-seeded Tyner in a girls' semifinal at 6:30.
Although Brainerd took the lead for good late in the first half, the Hurricanes were within one with two minutes gone by in the second half. By the 6:03 mark of the fourth quarter, Darrius Higgins' free throw increased the lead to 47-34. Seven was as close as East Hamilton (10-18) got the rest of the way.
High wasn't pleased to see his guards "rushing" with the ball with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but he had nothing but praise for Higgins. The forward didn't have more than five points in any quarter on the way to leading the Panthers with 16.
"I told him that's the hardest I'd seen him play this year," High said of Higgins, who strained a knee late Monday against Arts & Sciences and missed two days of practice. "He played his heart out."
Brainerd's Demetrius Kitchens ended with 12 points after not scoring in the first quarter, and Jalen Stallion had nine of his 11 in the second half.
Nick Ungos paced the Hurricanes with 12 points.
The Lady Panthers outscored Hixson by at least eight points in each of the first three quarters on the way to a 31-point lead at the end of three. The Lady Wildcats ended up making 28 turnovers.
"I thought we did a decent job," Lady Panthers coach Carolyn Jackson said. "We can play better. We're going to need to. Tyner is playing well now."
Tiara Boston scored seven points in each of the first two quarters and had totaled 18 when Jackson pulled her starters before the start of the fourth.
"We needed to get them out and get them some rest," Jackson said. "We also needed to get our young girls in. You're eventually going to need them down the line somewhere."
Erica Davenport sat out the first half but ended up Brainerd's second-leading scorer with 12.
Erica Mills' six were the Lady Wildcats' only points in the first quarter -- her only points -- and a game high for Hixson.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.
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