East Hamilton's girls didn't have nearly the polished finish to their Region 3-AA high school basketball semifinal Monday like in their quarterfinal Friday, but style points don't count.
The only points that count are those on the scoreboard, and the Lady Hurricanes outlasted Sequoyah 74-66 at East Ridge.
McMinn Central cruised past Red Bank 75-35 in the other semifinal.
East Hamilton (23-8) will take on McMinn Central (23-7) in Wednesday's championship game at East Ridge at 7 p.m. The Chargerettes won both regular-season meetings, but the Lady Hurricanes played them within single digits at East Hamilton.
"One thing, this gets us to a state sectional," East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. "We wanted to get at least as far as we did last year, and we've done that. As far as McMinn Central, we welcome the opportunity to play them. I may not be saying that Wednesday."
The Lady Hurricanes' rocky finish to the first half, when their 14-point lead shrank to 31-28 at the break, proved to be something of a pattern. East Hamilton's 55-41 lead early in the fourth quarter was down to a two-possession game after Sequoyah's Hunter Simpson made a 3-pointer with 1:49 to go and down to 68-66 after another Simpson 3 with 35 seconds remaining.
For the third consecutive trip to the free-throw line, a Lady Hurricane missed the first and made the second when Jessica Caudle went there with 29.1 seconds to play. But the Lady Chiefs missed two 3-point shots afterward and East Hamilton closed it out with 5-of-6 free-throw shooting in the last 16.3 seconds.
"One, we started getting a little panicky. We'd been pressuring and getting them thinking run, run, run. It's hard for them to turn that off sometimes," Morris said of his players. "And they made some huge 3s down the stretch," he said of the Lady Chiefs. "Thankfully, our daily free-throw practice paid off and we were able to knock some down at the end."
East Hamilton also won the two-guard shootout with Tiffany Lewis connecting on five 3-pointers on the way to 30 points while Simpson totaled 29 and made three 3-point goals.
Airyelle Belle supported Lewis with 13 points, 11 in the second half, and Brynn Moon added 12.
Danielle Slack and Kassidi Freeman contributed 13 points apiece for Sequoyah (17-13).
It's never good when a basketball coach calls a timeout 45 seconds into a game, like Red Bank's Brandon Crews. It's perhaps a worse sign when the coach calls four timeouts before halftime, which he did, too.
At the first timeout the Lady Lions trailed McMinn Central 7-0. They trailed 46-18 when they called their fourth, at 2:19 in the second quarter.
"We knew turnovers were going to be an issue," Crews said. "If we turn it over we've got to keep our head up and go on to the next play. We didn't do that tonight."
The Chargerettes added to their 28-point halftime lead by outscoring the Lady Lions 19-10 in the third quarter.
"They've been pretty focused," McMinn Central coach Johnny Morgan said of his players. "The big thing we talk about is 'Let's be the same all the time. No matter how much we're down or how much we're up, play for 32 minutes.' If we can get them to play for 32 minutes, we can pretty much accept what the results are."
Miss Basketball finalist Elizabeth Masengil had 29 points in the victory, all in the first three quarters. Haylee Morrow's 13 also came before the fourth period.
MiShannon Wilbanks' 24 points topped Red Bank (12-16). The District 6 runners-up had won six of their last nine, including postseason upsets of Tyner and Meigs County, the latter being their second region-tournament win in the last 10 years.
"When we look back on it," Crews said, "I think the seniors will be happy with what we accomplished."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.
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.