Home team Grace Academy's good start in the boys' semifinal Friday against Whitwell in the Region 3-A high school basketball tournament turned into a great one before the Tigers knew what hit them.
Once the lead swelled, the Golden Eagles were basically able to trade baskets and coast past Whitwell 71-49.
Grace (11-14) moves on to the semifinals Tuesday at Sale Creek, where it will face tonight's winner between Silverdale Baptist Academy and Marion County. Whitwell ends its season 11-22.
Grace coach Jon Mattheiss noted that two 3-pointers by Josh Smith helped his team's 10-6 start. Then Austin Powell, who finished with 23 points, scored nine consecutive and Andrew Godsey added a basket and the lead was 10 after one quarter.
The margin grew to 30-14 around the midway mark of the second quarter, and by the same point in the third it had swelled to 21.
"I thought we were ready right off the bat," Mattheiss said. "We've had a tendency to start off slow in some games this year. We didn't today."
The game evolved into a fast-paced one until late in the third quarter when the Tigers made a slight run. At that point Grace went to more of a spread offense and stretched Whitwell's zone defense, creating some driving lanes as the game wound down.
"Every time we would make a play Coach Mattheiss and them would answer right behind us," Whitwell coach Heath Thacker said. "I was proud of our kids. No matter what the score was they played ball. We cut it to 14 with under two minutes to go in the third but we never could break through that glass."
Smith scored 14 points in the victory and Blake Savard chipped in with 12.
Justin Havis, one of Whitwell's four seniors and a four-year starter along with Logan McDaniel, scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half. Chase White added 10 for the Tigers.
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.