East Hamilton's girls won a close basketball game Friday by a comfortable margin.
The host Lady Hurricanes led most of their hard-fought Region 3-AA high school quarterfinal but never by double digits until a little more than a minute remained. Ultimately, East Hamilton defeated Polk County 55-45.
Region semifinals will be held at East Ridge and begin Monday. East Hamilton (22-8) will take on either Tyner or Sequoyah in its semifinal.
Polk County ends its season 13-16.
The Wildkittens' only lead in the second half was early on, but they battled back from being down by seven points midway through the third quarter and caught East Hamilton at 38 with 6:23 to play when Maclain Yowarsky made both ends of a one-and-one. But from there they were outscored 17-5 until Polk County's Emily Wilson made two free throws with half a second left.
"They do a great job pressuring the ball," Polk coach Johnny Hayes said. "Not only pressuring the ball, they do a great job with defensive pressure in general. They started with their full-court defense a little bit in the first half, and we kind of had some issues with that. Early in the fourth we finally caught up, but from there I think we had two turnovers in a row.
"And it wasn't even just the turnovers. We had some looks at the goal; we just weren't connecting. We tried to jump up and deny and get some steals, but then we had to resort to fouling."
After Jessica Caudle's steal and layup put the Lady Hurricanes up 49-43, on their next possession they went to their version of a delay offense. The guards protected the ball several seconds until it was worked into the high post, where Kendra Ivins dumped the ball low to Shay Scott for a layup. Tiffany Lewis then converted both ends of bonus situations on their next two trips, and that made their largest lead.
"Our guards have grown up a lot," East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. "One of the negatives of playing freshmen three years ago was living with the mistakes as you go. Now as juniors, they've learned from those mistakes."
Although his team led by four at halftime, Morris said he had some concerns he felt he needed to address during the break.
"We had way too much one-on-one," Morris said. "Everybody was trying to do too much. We wanted to pressure them and did a much better job in the second half."
Lewis had more than half of the Lady 'Canes' 25 points at halftime and, after going scoreless in the third quarter, added 10 of her game-high 23 in the fourth. Caudle chipped in with 11 points.
"It was really physical, but we fought through it," Lewis said. "If we need to be physical, we can play that way.
"We knew we were not letting up. That was not an option."
Riley Hatcher scored 17 points for Polk County before fouling out late. Yowarsky added 11.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.