MCDERRMOTT — After trailing most of the game, taking a lead in the fourth quarter and then trading baskets the remainder of the final frame before finally salting it away, the Tartans held on for the victory, earning a trip to the Convocation Center in Athens and a date in the district finals.
East, who entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed, avoided the upset to beat the eighth-seeded Fairfield Indians 83-76 in a Division IV Sectional Final game Tuesday at Northwest High School.
The Tartans return to the Convo for the fourth time in five years.
“The schools around this area, especially the small schools, that’s a real big deal to the school, the kid, the team,” Tartans head coach Adam Bailey said. “You can never overplay going to the Convo. It’s just a great feeling.
“It’s a goal every year. It’ll always be a goal and I’m proud of the kids. I don’t think we played well but we played well enough to win. We’ve finally got to the point where we can not play our best, and still compete and find a way to win.”
East (18-4) hasn’t had much experience playing as a top seed in the tournament, an attribute Bailey believes led to the team’s struggles throughout the night.
“I think the kids had a little more added pressure on them,” Bailey said. “They got the respect of the other teams and programs having the one seed. I think they had a little jitters because of it.”
The Tartans were led by Akia Brown, who scored 46 of the team’s 83 points.
“He came to play from the beginning,” Bailey said. “You could tell he was going to find a way to win. When he plays like that, we are a better team. We just didn’t defend real well tonight and do the little things. I thought offensively we were really good and Akia was really special. For a tournament game, it was probably as special of a game as you could have.”
Although the Tartans struggled for the majority of the game, East railed from a 76-71 deficit in the fourth quarter to claim the victory.
“A lot of it is a testament to our kids,” Bailey said. “We’ve been in bad spots several times this year and battled through it. I’ve got a lot of battle tested kids. I know I play a couple of young kids but they’ve played a lot of basketball. We’ve been in a lot of big games.”
East will head to Athens to play it’s district semifinal game on March 1. Tipoff is scheduled at 6:15 p.m.
Fairfield 24 16 13 17 — 76
East 18 19 14 32 — 83
Fairfield — Walker 3-2-10, Putnam 11-2-29, Evans 4-3-11, Dalton 3-3-9, Cain 2-0-4, Current -0-8, Harris 2-0-4
East — Flannery 1-0-3, Shope 1-0-3, Lowe 3-2-9, Brown 17-9-43, Hatchel 1-0-2, Scott 8-5-21.
Three-point field goals — Fairfield 7 (Walker 2, Putnam 5); East 2 (Flannery, Shope)
Records — Fairfield N/A; East 19-4.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.