CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley constantly reminds Mikhail Creech that every time he steps on a basketball court, he's the best athlete on the floor and one who can influence the result of a basketball game.
Friday night, he wasn't just a bad influence -- he was Cleveland's worst nightmare.
Creech finished with six points, but owned the defensive side of the ball with 14 rebounds and eight blocks, helping the team claim a big 61-57 victory over the hosts at the Raider Dome. Ooltewah (21-3, 9-2) can secure the District 5-AAA regular-season title with a win over McMinn County in Athens on Tuesday.
Cleveland (13-7) is locked into the third slot with an 8-4 record in the district. They could have tied for second with a victory Friday, but Creech put a stop to that with his blocks, most of the patty-cake variety off the backboard of a ferocious and violent nature.
"Usually I get only three or four [blocks]," he said. "Coach has been stressing to us that we control our own destiny in the district for the first time in a long time.
"It feels like a good time to win it."
The Owls rotated fresh defenders on Cleveland point guard D.J. Bowles throughout the game, forcing the junior to shoot 1-for-12 in the first half, including missing all seven of his 3-point attempts. Bowles did finish with 12 points and four assists.
"We came out with the same type of game plan that we had the first time," Nayadley said. "If that didn't work, we would have adjusted, but we stayed up and stayed with him. D.J. is going to score; he's a great player, but I like that we made him work."
The Owls' normal balance offensively was evident in the first half, with all five starters scoring on their way to a 35-24 lead. The game was teetering on a blowout in the second half after a layup by Andre Moton made it a 16-point advantage, but Cleveland outscored the Owls 21-11 to close the quarter, cutting the lead to six heading into the fourth.
"I kept praising them for being up, but I constantly told them to be ready for the run; don't let it shock or rattle you," Nayadley said. "We knew they were going to make a run, but we stayed tough and bowed our backs. It was the benefit of having a lead like that [at halftime]."
Five points by Cleveland's Kendrick Thompson made it 53-50, then a 3-pointer by C.J. Bryant pushed the deficit back down to 3, this time 56-53 with 2:22 remaining. After a stop on defense, Cleveland had a chance to tie it or close it to a point, but Creech smacked a Bryant layup attempt off the backboard and Moton converted a putback on the other end.
The Raiders closed to within two on a putback by Jarod Rhodes with 17.7 seconds left, but Jervon Johnson hit two free throws for the final tally.
Moton led the Owls with 14 points, with Johnson adding 11 and Ben Snider 10. Rhodes had a game-high 15 points with 10 rebounds for Cleveland, while Bryant scored 13.
"We dug ourselves a whole," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. "We know those guys can block shots; they did the first time we played. It's our fault for not paying attention to the game plan. We didn't make one shot fake in the lane, and for them to have 10 blocks, it's obvious we didn't.
"We didn't do what we needed to do to win. I felt good defensively, and we had every opportunity to win the game, but let it slip through our fingers."