Grace Academy basketball team returns to state

photo Grace Academy coach Jon Mattheiss is seen in this file photo.

GRACE ACADEMY 61, CLARKRANGE 54Clarkrange 11 10 17 16 -- 54Grace Academy 17 11 13 18 -- 61Clarkrange (54) -- Chad Henry 11, Co. Henry 5, Stults 4, Chase Beaty 11, Taylor Edwards 14, Norman 4, Masters 5.Grace Academy (61) -- Johnston 2, Stephen Record 22, Corey Nelson 24, Smith 5, Hernandez, Tisdale 2, Powell 6.3-point goals: Clarkrange 3 (Edwards 2, Co. Henry); Grace 6 (Record 4, Nelson, Smith). Records: Grace Academy 19-10; Clarkrange 19-16.

The lesson learned less than a week ago remained firmly in the minds of the Grace Academy basketball team. After trailing for much of their region title game, the Golden Eagles rallied late for a win that earned them the right to host Monday's Class A state sectional.

Knowing how to remain poised and play from behind late helped Grace rally again, this time from a four-point deficit in the final three minutes for a 61-54 victory over Clarkrange to earn a berth in next week's state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University.

"Even when we were down four, I never saw any panic in our guys' eyes," Golden Eagles coach Jon Mattheiss said. "They never quit and kept fighting back. I think that experience last week helped us, because we knew weren't done yet."

Grace (19-10) is in the state tournament for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. Its first-round opponent will be revealed in a TSSAA blind draw Sunday afternoon.

The Golden Eagles, who have won 11 consecutive games, led for all but two minutes of the first half and built a 10-point lead twice in the third quarter. But Clarkrange changed its approach in the second half, driving to the basket on every possession rather than relying on outside shots as it had in the first half. The Buffaloes scored all but seven of their 33 second-half points in the paint, the rest on free throws.

"We decided to just attack the basket because we weren't getting it done from the outside," Clarkrange coach Rodney Pile said. "That got us back in it but it took a lot out of us, and it was tough to have to keep coming back several times. We just couldn't put them away, and they're a great team."

A 6-0 run late in the third quarter got Clarkrange within four, and the Buffaloes opened the fourth with another 6-0 spurt to take the lead. Their biggest advantage (50-46) came on Chad Henry's short jump shot in the lane with 3:54 remaining, but Grace answered with a 3-pointer from senior Stephen Record, which started a 9-0 run that included six straight free throws. Record also grabbed two steals in the closing seconds and turned each into a layup.

"We hit some big free throws and got a few timely steals and shots and really got a lot from several kids tonight," Mattheiss said.

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected] or 423-757-6293.