In program’s second season, youthful Chattanooga Prep Sentinels reach state tournament

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Prep's Ta'Suade Williams scores on a fastbreak layup in overtime during Monday's Class A sectional home victory over Pickett County.
Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Prep's Ta'Suade Williams scores on a fastbreak layup in overtime during Monday's Class A sectional home victory over Pickett County.

Eli Gaines had been dreaming of what it would be like to play in the TSSAA state basketball tournament.

The sophomore point guard will soon find out as Gaines was instrumental in helping Chattanooga Prep make history with Monday's 57-48 Class 1A sectional overtime victory at home over Pickett County. The win locked up a trip to Murfreesboro next week for the TSSAA BlueCross Basketball Championships.

"This moment feels exactly like what I dreamed it would be," said Gaines, who finished with 15 points and a game-high six assists. "This is so amazing and means everything to our team. We have been working hard for this great moment. I can't help but thank my coaches and all of my teammates for this. To do what we are doing is unbelievable."

Unbelievable is the perfect word to summarize what the Sentinels are doing in their second season of existence and without a junior or senior class at their school located on Tennessee Temple's old campus.

Freshman 6-foot-4 center Joel Bullis provided the biggest block of his young career with under a minute left in overtime, which sprung sophomore Ta'Suade Williams for a fastbreak layup to take a commanding 55-48 lead.

Chattanooga Prep (28-9) did not allow a point in overtime in advancing.

"We had to be relentless and push ourselves to do whatever we had to do to get to state," said Bullis, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. "I had to do whatever I could to help my team win. That block felt so good in that big moment."

The Sentinels were led by 6-foot-3 freshman guard Derrick Roberson, who scored 10 of his team-high 20 points in the third quarter. Roberson made 3-of-8 from 3-point range and hit a pair of key free throws in overtime.

"I told everybody we were going to make it to Murfreesboro after we fell short in the sectionals last season as an all eighth and ninth grade team," Roberson said. "This is our time. We may be the youngest team in the state, but our potential is limitless."

The Sentinels overcame a 44-40 deficit with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter after Eli Reagan drove the middle of the lane with authority for two of his game-high 24 points for Pickett County (17-13).

Chatt Prep then got game-tying shots from from De'Andre Turnbow -- who hit a 15-foot mid-range jumper from the left elbow with 1:56 left in regulation -- and Gaines whose running floater dribbled in for a 46-all tie with 1:22 left.

A gutsy play was made by Ta'Suade Williams as he knocked the ball free in the backcourt, then spun around on the floor to grab the loose ball and make a pass to Bullis while sitting on the floor for the go-ahead layup with 35 seconds left in regulation. It was his second straight steal on as many possessions.

While Jacob Amonett (13 points) helped send the sectional thriller to overtime, Pickett County could not keep up with the Sentinels in the four extra minutes.

Another clutch mid-range make by Turnbow gave Chattanooga Prep the first basket of overtime with 2:45 left to play and the hosts would not look back. Gaines sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 41 seconds remaining.

"This shows what hard work can accomplish," Chatt Prep coach Christoffer Collins said. "Despite our age, you can be up there with some of the best if you fight and never stop working. I told them tonight, there are no loose balls. Ninety percent of those should be ours. I told them that basketball says Murfreesboro on it. It stuck with them and we are going to state baby."

Class 2A sectional

Alcoa 64, Tyner 43

Class 4A sectionals

McMinn County 69, LaVergne 62

Blackman 58, Cleveland 46

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