For the second straight year, Bearden and Powell were set to meet in a region tournament elimination game.
This time, the result was different.
One year and one day after having their season ended by the Panthers, the Bulldogs eliminated Powell (22-10) in the Region 2-AAA semifinals at Oak Ridge High School on Tuesday night, 71-65.
With the win, Bearden (21-8) not only advances to Thursday’s Region 2-AAA championship game against Oak Ridge (28-2) at 7 p.m., but has already secured a spot in Monday’s sectional round.
Thursday’s region championship game will be Bearden’s first appearance there since 2011, when they advanced to the state championship game.
Trailing by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, Powell opened up the third quarter on an 8-0 run to claim a 37-36 lead. The two teams were tied at 51 entering the final quarter.
The game stayed within two points in favor of either team for the majority of the fourth quarter, but Bearden was able to extend its lead to 66-62 with 1:58 remaining.
After cutting the lead back to two at 66-64, Powell’s Matt Samples had the chance to tie the game with 30 seconds remaining with two free throws.
Samples made one of two, and from there, Ques Glover and Trent Stephney went a combined 5-for-6 from the free throw line to seal the game.
Stephney led Bearden with 22 points. Glover added 19, Roman Robinson had 12, and Drew Pember had 11.
Early on, it looked like the Bulldogs may run away with an easy win.
After jumping out to their 16-point lead at 26-10 in the first quarter, Powell dwindled that lead all the way down to four just before the end of the second quarter.
Sophomore Drew Pember gave the Bulldogs some momentum going into the half, converting a three-point play just 0.3 seconds before the buzzer to give Bearden a 36-29 halftime lead.
Bearden-Oak Ridge rematch: Bearden can claim some experience against Thursday’s region championship game opponent, having already faced Oak Ridge once this season. The Bulldogs lost to the Wildcats on Nov. 25 at the Stone Memorial Thanksgiving Showcase, 66-63. The only other win Oak Ridge has had this year that was that close was Tuesday’s semifinal win over Maryville. Both of the Wildcats’ losses came to out-of-state teams.
Potential sectional matchups: No matter the result of Bearden’s game against Oak Ridge on Thursday, the Bulldogs will be facing either Science Hill or David Crockett in Monday’s Sectional round. If Bearden beats Oak Ridge, the Bulldogs will play at home against the loser of the Science Hill-David Crockett game. If Bearden loses to Oak Ridge, the Bulldogs will go on the road to face the winner of that game.
Bearden on a hot streak: Tuesday’s win marked the 11th win in the past 12 games for Bearden. During that 12-game stretch, the Bulldogs’ wins have come by an average of 13.4 points per game. The one loss was to Class AA’s No. 1 ranked team, Catholic (27-1).