Note: This story was last updated at 12:54 a.m. March 1.
A steal by senior Ted Mitchell late in the game helped save an overtime win for the Oak Ridge Wildcats in a regional tournament semifinal game against Heritage on Saturday.
The Wildcats (28-2) were also helped by a big basket by sophomore Tee Higgins late in overtime, when Oak Ridge was down by one. Higgins’ shot off the glass gave the Wildcats a one-point 44-43 lead with about 1:10 to play. A free throw by junior Geevantay Gee after Mitchell’s steal widened the margin to two.
Heritage (23-12) missed their final two back-to-back shots with about seven seconds left, and the final score at Wildcat Arena was 45-43.
Oak Ridge moves on to play Maryville (24-6) in the Region 2-AAA championship at home at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Mountaineers had a chance to win their semifinal game against Oak Ridge at the loud, filled-to-capacity Wildcat Arena, but a free throw by senior Jake Long was off the mark with 3.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That kept the game tied at 40-40 and sent it into a four-minute overtime.
“That was a grind,” Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said. “We’ve had a lot of blowouts, and I tried to prepare them. We haven’t been challenged a lot the last month, the last two months.”
It was the second time this season that Mitchell had a game-saving defensive play with less than one minute remaining. In December, the Wildcats’ lone senior had a block that preserved a 58-56 win as time expired against Halls.
“They had been running the same pattern the whole game,” Mitchell said of his steal with about 40 seconds remaining against the Heritage Mountaineers on Saturday. “Once I saw that coming, I left my guy and stole it.”
Green said the attention often focuses on the top scorers.
But, he added, “Ted does so many things for us on the defensive end.”
It was a low-scoring game, and only two players had 10 points or more. Higgins, a 6’4″ sophomore, led all scorers with 16, and Heritage’s Keenan Berger, a 6’8″ junior, had 14.
“It was a close game,” Higgins said. “It came down to the wire, but we pulled it off.”
The Wildcats took a 9-8 lead about four minutes into the game and held the lead until Berger tied the game at 36-36 with 5:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The two teams then traded leads several times, and Oak Ridge let the clock wind down starting at about 2:17 before trying to score on a drive by Gee. That shot went over the basket, and the Wildcats fouled the Mountaineers on the following loose-ball scramble. But when Long missed the foul shot with 3.8 seconds left, the game went into overtime.
“Free throws win games,” Heritage Coach Bill Duncan said. “We thought we had the game won.”
Still, Duncan said he was proud of his team.
“They worked hard enough to have a chance,” he said.
Green said he was shocked by Maryville’s 79-43 win over Bearden (28-3) in the other Region 2 semifinal game on Saturday.
Heritage, Bearden, and Maryville are all District 4 teams. Oak Ridge was the only District 3 team in the Region 2-AAA semifinals.
Green said Maryville is one of the best shooting teams Oak Ridge will play all year. The Wildcats had one of their closest games this year against Maryville, beating the Rebels by one point, 62-61, in November.
“It’ll be a battle tomorrow,” Green said.
The Wildcats will play either Science Hill or Dobyns-Bennett of Region 1 in a sectional game on Tuesday.
In the meantime, Green wants to pack Wildcat Arena, which holds about 2,500 people, on Sunday.
“Let’s pack this place out,” he said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.