By KEVIN WEAKS
South Fulton has now put one bad streak to rest. The chance to end another comes next.
SF pulled away from Bradford in the fourth quarter for a 72-59 win in the quarterfinals of the District 14A Tournament on Tuesday night at Bradford’s gym.
With that win, South Fulton ended a seven-year drought from the regional round. And, the Red Devils’ last trip to a region tournament was by default as the 2005 team advanced from a four-team District 15A.
Next up for South Fulton comes a streak that might hurt even more. The Redmen will take on long-time nemesis Union City in the 14A semifinals 6 p.m. Friday at Trenton. SF will be looking to end a decade of misery against their Obion County rival, a streak that has now reached 22 straight games.
“I’m so excited, I can’t even talk about it,” SF head coach Wes Miller said. “We wanted this so bad for the kids. It’s a big win, and now we get three more.”
Miller’s bunch earned those three extra games by weathering a couple of storms in the tourney opener.
South Fulton spotted Bradford the first seven points of the game before storming back with a 10-0 run to take a lead that lasted until the end of the first half. Then, in the third period, Bradford started strong again and held two more seven-point leads — 41-34 and 43-36 — only to see SF rally with an 11-3 run to close the quarter ahead by a point.
In both instances, Miller called a time-out to stop the Bradford momentum. His words and tone were quite different in each, though.
“The first one, I had intended on just letting our kids play through it, but once it got to be 7-0, I knew I needed to call one to calm them down,” he said. “I knew we had to run something designed right then.
“The second was just butt-chewing time. I questioned their manhood about not playing hard enough or playing tough. I just tried to hold them accountable.”
In both cases, Miller’s time-out calls proved to be timely.
Coming out of the first break at 5:23 of the first period, the Redmen cleared a path down the middle the lane for Harrison Hawks to drive for a layup, scoring the first of his game-high 26 points.
Clint Wells then blocked a shot at the other end that J.P. Fowler turned into a transition layup. Hawks drove into the paint again, and then Wells dumped the ball to Keshawn McManus underneath for a layup that put South Fulton ahead 8-7 at 2:59. Tevaris James finished the 10-point spurt with a putback basket 39 seconds later.
McManus then scored twice in transition and followed with a 15-footer as South Fulton led by as many as five points late and carried an 18-15 lead into the first break.
Bradford’s big post player Peyton Pruett began to find some room in the paint, scoring six points in the second period, but every comeback attempt by the home team was thwarted by SF’s ball-hawking defensive pressure that forced five turnovers in the period.
Hawks bottomed a 3-pointer at 3:15 to give South Fulton a 31-25 lead, but Bradford was finally able to maintain a run after that and tied the game at the half with six straight points.
In the midst of that mini-run, Hampton took a hard shot to the left side of his head, opening up a gash that spilled blood on his uniform and the floor. He was taken to dressing room to be patched up, and action was delayed as Bradford school officials cleaned up the blood spots.
He returned to the game after the intermission and played the entire second half, save a couple of times to re-apply bandages, changing from jersey number 31 to 43 and finishing with 14 points to tie Tyler McCartney for team-high honors.
Meanwhile, Hawks finished the first half with 11 points and McManus added 10 for SF.
Bradford looked poised to continue South Fulton’s postseason frustrations after opening the third frame with a 10-3 run to go ahead by seven points.
Another long pause in the action came at 2:34 with SF trailing 43-36, this one the result of a verbal altercation between a student on the Bradford bench and a female South Fulton fan. The student was eventually escorted to the dressing room, while another SF fan was ejected from the gymnasium.
From that point on, it was all South Fulton on the floor as the visitors closed the period with an 11-3 run to go up 47-46 and then outdid Bradford 25-13 in the fourth quarter.
Points off turnovers were big in the fourth as South Fulton pulled away — McManus, Hawks and T.J. Ingram all scoring off steals to push the margin to double figures. SF finished the game with 16 steals. Bradford was also limited to just two made 3-point baskets.
Behind Hawks’ high point total, McManus had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Wells finished with 10 points. Pruett ended with 12 points but was held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Published in The Messenger 2.13.13