TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — As the Grady Knights were warming up in front of a rowdy group of Northwest Whitfield students, the chant of "No. 4 seed" starting filling the air.
When the final buzzer had sounded, that No. 4 seed had gotten the last laugh. Grady, the final playoff team from Region 6-AAAA, eliminated the Bruins Wednesday in the state's first round of playoffs, 62-46. The score may have surprised the Northwest faithful, but coach Ryan Richards knew what his team was in store for.
"We knew they were good," he said. "They beat the No. 1 and the No. 2 teams in that region. The South Atlanta coach said they could beat anyone in the state, so they are not your normal No. 4 seed."
A lineup and deep bench filled with elite athletes and sporting a height advantage that was at least four inches at each position proved too much, though the Bruins, Richards admitted, had their opportunities.
"Our shooters just didn't hit," he said. "We missed tons of shots we've been making. We rushed some, and they had something to do with it, but once we got settled in we just couldn't hit consistently. We knew we had to shoot the lights out to be in it, and we did have our chances."
An 18-0 Grady run that spanned six minutes of the first period -- most of it with Northwest post O'Shea Hill on the bench with two quick fouls -- proved to be too much to overcome, though the Bruins did rally. The Knights had three offensive putbacks and four layups in the run, all coming on runouts after long missed Northwest shots.
"We felt we could get some layups off defensive rebounds, so we leaked our guards," Grady coach Brian Weeden said. "We let them get back in it, but I'm proud of the guys for staying with the game plan. It was pretty physical out there."
Down 20-7 to start the second period, Northwest got nine quick points from Tanner Quarles to cut the lead to five, but a Tyrius Walker drive, followed by a Kivon Taylor layup and dunk from Jonathan Boatner stretched the lead back to 11 in under a minute.
"We would cut it down and they would go on a spurt," Richards said, shaking his head. "When they got going it just seemed to snowball."
Still, the lead was just 11, 34-23, at the half, but a 14-6 run to start the third quarter, highlighted by seven points from Avi Toomer, essentially put the game on ice.
"We knew we had to shoot the lights out, which we didn't, but I thought we played hard to the end," Richards said. "It's been a great season, and that's what we're going to remember the most."
Toomer led Grady (19-8) with 16 points, with Taylor adding 15. Six-foot-9 post Brandon Watkins led a 44-to-17 rebounding edge with 10. Quarles topped Northwest (24-4) with 17 points, with Hill adding nine points, six blocked shots and four steals in his final game.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...