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Red Bay Varsity Boys Basketball Ends Dream Season in Region Semis
Posted On:
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Red Bay vs Vincent 2019 NW Regional
Red Bay vs Vincent 2019 NW Regional


 FFP    by Mike Self   20feb2019

HANCEVILLE - For the second straight season, Red Bay’s boys found themselves facing an uncomfortable deficit in the fourth quarter of a semifinal game at the Northwest Regional.

For the second straight season, the Tigers came storming back by playing inspired basketball when it mattered most.

But, for the second straight season, the late comeback was all for naught, and the final result was the same—a narrow loss, and an early regional exit.

This one, though, definitely felt different.

“Not sure what to say right now,” head coach John Torisky said, just moments after watching Vincent score the go-ahead bucket on its final possession to end Red Bay’s season with a 41-40 win. “I wish we had ten more seconds.”

In truth, Torisky wishes his team had three more games. A state championship, after all, was the goal coming into the postseason for a Tiger squad that had gone 14-1 since January 1 on its way to setting a new school record with 27 wins and—for a couple of weeks—ascending all the way to the No. 1 spot in the ASWA Class 2A rankings.

A year ago, Red Bay was a Cinderella story, improving from two wins the previous season to 18 last season and making its first regional appearance since 1995. It almost didn’t matter that the Tigers’ furious fourth-quarter rally against Mars Hill [they cut a 16-point deficit down to two in the final seconds before ultimately falling to the Panthers 62-58] came up short; there were no seniors on the roster, and the huge finish in the regional semifinals definitely felt like a warm-up act for a much bigger show.

This year’s Red Bay team, which entered Friday’s  action with a sparkling record of 27-5, was a bona fide juggernaut, dropping only two games all season to teams from Alabama. [Those teams, incidentally, were Class 4A contender Deshler and Class 1A No. 1 Decatur Heritage.] Suffice it to say, Torisky and his players no longer viewed Tom Drake Coliseum as a destination; rather, they saw it as merely a stop along the way to an even more significant venue.

Which is why Friday’s loss left Torisky wishing for more of the one thing we can’t ever seem to get.


“That’s the main thing—I think we just ran out of time,” said Torisky, whose team needed to go the length of the floor in the final 4.2 seconds but failed to get off a shot, turning the ball over instead. “We probably would have gotten at least an opportunity to get a shot. But that’s the way basketball goes. You get 32 minutes, and you have to make the most of it. Unfortunately, they came out on top this time.”

Leading by eight at 33-25 with 5:25 remaining, Vincent (18-10) appeared poised to pull away and march on to the regional final. The Tigers (27-6) weren’t done, however.

Sophomore Braden Ray converted a driving bucket into a three-point play, and then junior guard Clay Allison came up with a layup off a steal to make it 33-30. Moments later, Red Bay senior Gath Weatherford took a charge, and then wiry junior guard Tanner Hamilton rebounded a Weatherford miss on the other end and put it back in to get the Tigers within one at 33-32.

A steal and layup by Ray capped off the 9-0 run and put Red Bay on top 34-33 with 3:30 remaining.

In barely 90 seconds, the Tigers had forced four turnovers and made four baskets to go from down eight to up one in the proverbial blink of an eye.

“I think a little bit of it was just the do-or-die,” Torisky said. “Everybody gets it. These guys are competitors. They’ve competed all year long. When we got a break and a steal and a basket, it just kind of fed off each other, and they were ready to go. That eventually got us into the lead; unfortunately, they just made a couple of shots after that. But our guys are capable of making quick runs.

“We didn’t shoot the ball that well today, but we were able to get some steals and baskets off turnovers.”

Ray came up with another steal after Red Bay took the lead, but the Tigers turned the ball right back over to Vincent. Jackson McGinnis, a 6’3 junior post player, rebounded his own miss and put it back in, giving the Yellow Jackets a 35-34 lead with 2:19 remaining.

After a miss by Red Bay, Vincent’s Chris Hardie went 1-for-2 at the line to make it 36-34 at the 1:36 mark. Weatherford, who was just 1-for-8 from the field at that juncture, nailed a tough turnaround fadeaway from the left baseline to tie the game with 1:20 left to play.

On Vincent’s next possession, Red Bay senior guard Colton Corum snatched up a loose ball near mid-court and raced the other way, leading a three-on-one break that seemed destined to put the Tigers back on top. Corum dropped off a behind-the-back pass to Ray, but 6’2 junior Malik Hamilton came up with a critical blocked shot before grabbing the rebound and getting fouled.

Hamilton made the first three, giving Vincent a one-point lead, but missed the second. The Yellow Jackets fouled Ray going for the rebound, and the 6’3 sophomore calmly stroked two free throws to put Red Bay in front 38-37 with 44.1 seconds to go.

The Tigers defended Vincent well on the next trip down, but junior guard Johntavius Keith banked in a tough, spinning 12-footer with Hunter Bays draped all over him, putting the Yellow Jackets back in front 39-38 with 22.1 seconds remaining.

Hardie reached in on Weatherford on the other end and committed his fifth foul, sending the 6’4 senior to the line with 10.8 seconds on the clock. Weatherford, a 75 percent foul shooter on the season, sank a pair of clutch free throws, putting the Tigers on top 40-39. Torisky then called timeout to draw up his defensive strategy for what was likely to be Vincent’s final possession.

“I knew [Keith] was gonna get it,” Torisky said afterwards, “but I wasn’t sure where he was gonna line up. I told the guys, I’ll take the blame for that.”

Vincent coach John Hadder had Keith take the ball out of bounds. The 6’0 speedster got the ball inbounds and then bolted for the other end, getting the ball right back with a full head of steam and open floor in front of him.

“When he went to throw it in,” Torisky said, “I told Hunter, ‘Just let him throw it in, and then run with him.’ Well, he beat him in a foot race. So, I mean, it wasn't something we did wrong; the kid was just faster. Gath almost got in there and took a charge. I don’t know if they would have called it or not. Who knows? But when [Keith] got downhill, I was just hoping he’d miss a layup, because I knew he was getting to the basket.”

Keith did indeed get all the way to the rim, and his finger-roll layup gave Vincent a 41-40 lead with 4.2 seconds to play. Torisky called another timeout and drew up a final play to try and get his team a decent look off a full-court press break.

The Tigers wanted to get the ball in to Allison, their speedy point guard, but the Yellow Jackets denied that option. Red Bay instead inbounded the ball to Ray, who dribbled toward mid-court and then tried to advance the ball ahead with a pass to the right wing. Vincent junior Kaleb Wilson stole that pass, sealing the win and punching the Yellow Jackets’ ticket to the Elite Eight.

“We were trying to get Clay to come around and attack, and they obviously took that away,” Torisky said. “We got it to our second option, Braden, but he couldn’t get through the press. I felt like if he could have gotten to the middle of the court, we had shooters in the corners with Colton and Gath waiting to catch and shoot.

“Four seconds is enough time, but if you’ve got pressure it’s real hard to get a good pass and a good shot off in four seconds. With their pressure, it’s just tough to do.”

Wilson’s steal was the last in a steady stream of defensive stands by both teams on Friday. Red Bay hounded Vincent into six turnovers by the time the game was six minutes old [Weatherford, in particular, was a menace, coming up with two steals and taking a charge] and forcing the Yellow Jackets to shoot 0-for-5 from the field in a scoreless first quarter.

“One of the things these guys are really good at is, we can watch a team and figure out what they like to do, and we can take it away,” said Torisky, whose team came into Friday holding opponents to an average of just 35.9 points in 15 games since January 1. “At least that’s our goal. In the first quarter, we weren’t letting them penetrate into the lane. They were getting some tough shots down low and some threes outside that weren’t falling, but for the most part they weren’t getting layups at the basket.

“As the game went on, they got in there a little bit, but still not much. They made some tough shots, which they’re capable of doing. I’ve watched them on film. We’re not gonna stop those shots, but at least if we make them shoot a tough shot, we’ve got a good chance of getting it back.”

To their credit, the Yellow Jackets picked things up offensively after their first-quarter goose egg, shooting 6-for-9 in the second quarter, 5-for-10 in the third and 6-for-7 in the fourth to finish the night at 17-for-31 (55 percent). The Tigers, meanwhile, made only one field goal (a three-pointer by Corum) in the first quarter and never really found a flow until the final period, when they shot 6-for-12 from the floor and 8-for-9 from the foul line to score 20 points—matching their total output from the first three quarters combined.

Red Bay shot 11-for-32 (34 percent) from the floor on the night, including just 3-for-13 from beyond the arc.

“Their pressure was great,” said Weatherford, who hit his only three of the night in the second quarter and finished with seven points. “Their on-ball defense…they were pushing us off the three-point line as much as they could. It really just came down to execution. We didn’t shoot it well at all. I don’t know the numbers, but we didn’t have a lot of shots go in for us.”

The Tigers did shoot 15-for-20 from the foul line (with Ray going 7-for-8 and Allison 5-for-6), but Vincent hung in defensively and made the final play offensively to earn a win that Hadder knew would not come easily.

“We told our kids this game that we were gonna have to have some toughness,” Hadder said. “That Red Bay bunch has been really good all year long. They’re gritty, they’re scrappy, they do things the right way. We knew we were gonna have to have a little bit of toughness and grit to grind this one out.”

The grind is over for Red Bay (for now, at least), but Torisky was already reflecting on his team’s accomplishments during a record-setting season while also turning an eye toward a future that looks extremely bright. Seniors Weatherford, Corum, Bays and Noah Brewer will graduate, but Allison, Ray and 6’5 sophomore Lane Shewbart lead a strong group of returners that should be joined at the varsity level by a wave of talent coming up from the program’s lower levels.

Suffice it to say, Torisky expects the Tigers will get more chances to break through in Hanceville and earn their first regional tournament win since ’95.

“Someone eventually will break through, but these guys started it all, of course,” said Torisky, who has taken the Tigers from a 2-24 record in his second season (2016-17) to a total of 45 wins over the past two seasons. “We did a lot of things this year that we haven’t done in a while. We won a county championship, we won an area championship, we broke the school record for wins—the list is endless. I told these guys, this is probably the second-hardest loss I’ve ever had. The first was losing in the state championship when I played on a last-second shot. So I can empathize with them.

“Just the journey that Gath and those three other seniors have been on is what I’ll remember—where we started and where we ended. The guys behind them coming up....we’re gonna keep getting stronger. These guys have just set the program up for success because of the way they work and do things. I hate it for them, but at the same time I’m already looking forward to next year, because I know we’ve got more coming through.”

Ray led Red Bay on Friday with 13 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. Allison added nine points, and Corum and Weatherford scored seven apiece. Brewer and Tanner Hamilton each had two.

Keith led Vincent with 15 points, and McGinnis added 12.

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