DECATUR, Tenn. - The Meigs County basketball Tigers needed only one free throw to seal the program's first trip to the state tournament in 27 years.
It took a while, but they finally -- collectively -- got two. And those made the difference in a 71-69 Class A sectional win over South Greene.
The Tigers watched a seven-point lead with 3:49 remaining disappear because of the hot shooting of Nick Fillers and their own inability to hit free throws. The visiting Rebels pulled even in the final minute before Meigs got a free throw apiece from Cam Harris and Bryson Baker.
The hosts sweated out a Jonathan Zavelata 3-point attempt that rattled out at the buzzer, sealing Meigs' first state appearance since 1987.
Their next opponent will be determined by a blind draw Sunday afternoon in Murfreesboro.
"We've worked so hard all year, and it feels great to see all the hard work going towards this to pay off," senior Levi Woods said. "Early on, I let the emotion get to me and I had to settle myself down and pace myself, but we're going to enjoy tonight and then go make a run at a state championship.
"I love Meigs County; I'd do anything for these people here; I love this town. We're going back to the state tournament, and we're making history."
The Tigers (30-4) were led by 23 points from the Mr. Basketball finalist, who needed only 11 to become the school's all-time leading scorer. He eclipsed that mark on a layup with 2:48 remaining in the first quarter and now has 2,374 points.
When he broke the career record, his team was riding the emotions of a packed house and leading 18-5, but the Rebels rallied back with five first-half 3-pointers and briefly took a lead before a 12-2 run by the Tigers gave them a 38-31 advantage going into halftime.
The Tigers built a six-point lead in the second half and seemed to be in control until the final minutes, when they missed five consecutive free throws before Harris hit the second of two. They then added the insurance shot by Baker, and Woods grabbed Zavelata's miss to end the game.
"You hate to see that, having the home crowd behind you in your gym," Meigs coach Sammy Perkinson said of the missed free throws. "Zy [Moore] is a good free-throw shooter, Bryson's a good free-throw shooter, and Levi, but we just missed them and opened the door for South Greene. But we won and we're tickled to death.
"We wasted some energy because the crowd was so into it early. We came out and went so hard and fed off their energy, that it took the energy out of us and they came back. But we held on and we're glad to be going to Murfreesboro; now we just have to work on some free throws."
Matthew Meadows had 18 points on the interior for Meigs, while Baker added nine. Fillers had 27 to lead South Greene (16-18), while Daniel Lowery added 19.
"We had a shot to win," South Greene coach Terry Hoese said. "We came out and played our butts off against a great team; I know why their record is what it is. They've got a great bunch of kids down there and I can't take anything away from there, but I think everybody in here gained respect for us. The kids played hard; we got down a couple times big, but we never gave up -- it's how we've been all year -- and what else can you ask for? We had a shot at the end to win it.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.