CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A first-year journey for Jamaal Walker with East Hamilton has been one to remember. The 6-foot-5 versatile guard added a major highlight to a breakout senior season in which a dream trip to Murfreesboro still remains intact.
Not ready to pack the bags in, Walker and veteran teammate Cameron Montgomery were lethal forces from start to finish as they combined for 47 points Tuesday night in a 68-65 win over Stone Memorial in Raider Arena. That advanced the Hurricanes to the Region 3-AAA championship game there Thursday at 7 p.m. against host Cleveland, which beat White County 67-45.
"We had to be resilient and persevere," said Walker, who scored eight of his team-high 24 points in the final 1:45 of the game. "Me and Cam have formed a strong chemistry. His experience and guidance has helped this team and myself a lot."
The Blue Raiders (27-4) coasted to their 19th straight win as senior guard Isaiah Johnson scored 23 points.
"We have been working as hard as we can in practice and every game to try to accomplish our goal to make it to state this year," Johnson said. "My love for the game makes me want to never stop playing, so we are all feeding off one another to try and accomplish our dream."
East Hamilton (22-8) appeared also to be on its way to a comfortable victory at times as the Hurricanes connected on five first-quarter 3-pointers and held doubl-digit leads to start the third and fourth quarters.
However, Stone Memorial junior guard Brett Newcome led a courageous fight as well as all scorers with 34 points and five 3s. With five minutes left his quick cut to the hoop for a layup brought the Panthers within one, 53-52.
Montgomery answered with the kind of clutch play he has displayed ever since he helped the Hurricanes make the program's first trip to the Class AAA state tournament in 2017.
After resetting and focusing in after a pep talk from head coach Frank Jones, Montgomery sped down the lane and floated a layup high off the backboard. Sliding out of bounds after taking a hit on the shot, he converted an old-school three-point play for a 56-52 lead with 3:58 left.
Stone tied the score at 56 when 6-foot-7 post Justin Headrick (15 points) sank one of two from the line with 2:54 to go.
Montgomery answered once again as he turned around and made a left-handed bank shot. He also ended the night with four 3s.
The Hurricanes then used a run of six straight points by Walker, which included a key field goal from the right elbow of the free-throw line with 1:15 left for a 62-58 lead.
East Hamilton also leaned on Darwin Randolph and Morrell Schramm, who came up with game-saving steals in the final minute to seal the deal. Schramm also made two free throws with 9.6 seconds left to grow the lead to five.
With a region plaque up for grabs in the fourth meeting between the Hurricanes and Blue Raiders, who have a 2-1 series advantage, an intense battle for sectional home-court advantage Monday can be expected.
"When I first got here I talked about Ooltewah being our rival, but the guys feel like Cleveland is more of their rival," Coach Jones said. "We will have two great teams on the court. We are going to take it at one another. I just hope my team is up when the clock hits zero."
Cleveland has not lost a game in 2019 behind an explosive group of guards led by one senior, a junior and two sophomores. In the 19-game win streak the Blue Raiders have dominated by an average of 73-46.
Junior JaCobi Wood scored 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter to help roll White County.
With the most wins the program has had since the 2002-03 campaign when they won 28, the goal is to advance to the state tournament.
"I always heard Tiger Woods say it's nice to be in the same sentence as Jack Nicklaus," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. "It's just nice we have a one-game situation to get to Murfreesboro. We are excited and hungry for the road ahead."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon