Baylor and McCallie will renew their basketball hostilities Saturday night at Chattanooga State with a Times Free Press Best of Preps title on the line, though each took a distinctly different path to the championship game.
McCallie used a stifling defense to post a 65-45 win over Brainerd in Friday's semifinals, and Baylor executed its offense to near perfection while putting away East Hamilton 70-55 in a rematch of last season's title game.
Baylor's girls will also play for a Best of Preps title, taking on Signal Mountain.
Baylor big man Nick Kurtz had a game-high 24 points and 15 rebounds and was on the receiving end of several pinpoint passes from point guard Eli Sparkman and others as the Red Raiders (7-2) avoided getting caught in East Hamilton's trapping press.
"We just really competed really well," Baylor coach Mark Price said. "It wasn't the cleanest game in the world, but East Hamilton makes you play that way. They junk the game up; they trap you and try to speed you up. It got to us some in the fourth quarter, but I will say this, for the majority of the game one of the big keys for us was keeping our composure with the basketball.
"I thought our guards moved the ball with confidence against pressure, kept their heads up and saw where the ball needed to go, and Nick Kurtz continued to be a workhorse for us."
Baylor never trailed and hit four 3-pointers in the opening period to take a 21-12 lead. Kurtz then took over with nine points in the second for a 35-24 lead. Gehrig Ebell (12 points) and Sparkman (13) hit early 3-pointers in the third to spark a 12-7 run that swelled the lead to 16 at one point.
If the Red Raiders weren't hitting 3-pointers, they were making layups. Kurtz had three straight to end the third with a 53-39 lead, and though the Hurricanes (6-8) cut the lead to 11 halfway through the fourth, Baylor quieted the comeback as Kurtz finished with five more in-the-paint points.
East Hamilton and Brainerd will meet at 5:30 p.m. with third place at stake.
* McCallie 65, Brainerd 45
The matchup of two Chattanooga hoops heavyweights was an early knockout for the Blue Tornado (6-8), who rolled to a 28-12 lead after one quarter and never looked back.
It was also a battle of elite point guards and, just like the game itself, McCallie's Eric Rivers had the upper hand on Brainerd counterpart Kelvin Halfacre Jr.
Rivers scored a game-high 17 points, 13 in the first half, and was adept in setting up teammates Trey Hamilton, Juryman Saizonov, Wright Self — each finished with eight points — and John Hardy (seven points) for easy looks. He also led a smothering defense that frustrated the Panthers (5-6) early in the game.
"Eric Rivers did a great job of running our team, which we expect of him," coach David Conrady said. "I don't think he necessarily took the matchup personally, but Eric considers himself one of the better players in our area, and I think when he gets the opportunity to play against other good point guards he wants to play well. Tonight he really did a good job of settling us down and scoring when he had the chance."
Brainerd, led by 12 points each from Halfacre and Jonte Williams, trailed 36-18 at halftime and came out in the third quarter with a hard press. It worked for a bit as McCallie's lead was cut to 13, but Rivers settled the Blue Tornado down and they cruised.
"Brainerd is one of the hardest-working, toughest teams that is in our city," Conrady said. "We have a lot of really good teams in our city, but they play hard and they never stop playing hard. I was proud of our kids in how we stuck in there and kept playing.
"Defensively, we came out and played hard. We did a great job of playing for each other on the defensive end, and we didn't give them a lot of second shots early. That gave us a chance to get down and get into the offensive plan."