With its season on the line, the East Ridge boys' basketball team trailed for all but 30 seconds — and was behind by double digits for much of the night — in Friday's District 6-AA quarterfinal at Red Bank.
The visiting Pioneers led for the most important 30 seconds, however.
A strong fourth quarter helped them close the gap, and they hung within a basket over the final three minutes until Sam Garmany nailed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to give his team its first lead. As it had throughout the fourth, the East Ridge defense put the clamps on the Lions in the closing seconds and the Pioneers pulled off a 44-42 win to extend their postseason and eliminate the tournament hosts.
The Pioneers advanced to Saturday's semifinals at Red Bank, where they will face top-seeded Brainerd at 7:30 p.m. Howard plays Tyner in the earlier boys' semifinal at 4:30, with the winners advancing to Tuesday's title game at Red Bank.
"We knew if we could just step it up on defense and move the ball to find the open shooters that we could come back," said Garmany, who finished with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. "It all started with our defense, because once we scored a few times off of turnovers, that really got us going.
"I had a straightaway look and just had to go up and shoot with confidence on that last 3. It felt great when I saw it go in."
Red Bank (17-10) built a 10-point lead by the midpoint of the second quarter and maintained its double-digit advantage — leading by as many as 12 points — until late in the third. After East Ridge closed to within five, the Lions countered with a 7-2 run to close out the third and push their lead back to 10.
The Pioneers (17-12), who had lost three of their past four games coming in, opened the fourth with a 6-0 run and held Red Bank to just one field goal in the final quarter, finally taking the lead on Garmany's 3-pointer that punctuated a 9-0 run.
"We just had to stop turning the ball over ourselves and keep playing stout defense. Just keep coming," said Pioneers coach Jon Goddard, whose team had split the regular-season meetings with the Lions, including a three-point loss last week in which it was East Ridge that lost a lead late. "We were getting the job done on defense pretty much the whole second half, so it was just a matter of making some shots. We had one series where we got stops on six straight possessions but only scored off of one of those.
"We've kind of flown under the radar this year. Not a lot of people have talked about us, other than the teams in our own district because they know we can be dangerous."