By Maurice Patton
LYNNVILLE – Culleoka cut a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to one with two minutes to play, but third-ranked host Richland regrouped down the stretch and went 9-for-10 from the foul line Thursday to clinch a 56-47 victory in the finals of the District 10-A Tournament.
The win sends the Raiders (22-1) into a Region 5-A tourney quarterfinal matchup Saturday against visiting East Robertson, while Culleoka will entertain McEwen.
Despite never leading, Culleoka (12-10) managed to make Richland uncomfortable at times over the course of the contest.
“It was exactly what I expected,” Raiders coach Jason Loveless said. “A championship game shouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t. We expected them to do the things they did.
“Some of our wounds were self-inflicted; some they inflicted. But we played well enough on offense, we played well enough on the boards and we made free throws.”
After defeating the Warriors 75-47 and 68-50 while posting a perfect mark in district play, it looked early on as if Richland was headed for a third double-digit victory. The Raiders led 17-9 after one period and 24-16 with 2:47 remaining in the half, before Culleoka got a pair of low-post baskets from Cooper Parks in a 6-3 mini-run before intermission.
“They have, possibly, the three best players in the district (Trey Luna, Daniel Nicholson and Logan Helton),” Culleoka coach Mike Lovett said. “We threw a little ‘junk’ at them. I think it worked well.
“We had to play two halves. We played a good first half each of the first two times we played, but we collapsed in the second half twice.”
Richland went on an 11-0 run early in the third quarter and took a 47-35 lead with 6:26 left on a Tyrell Randolph 3-pointer, but a Parks putback was sandwiched by a pair of Tavon Bagsby 3s as Culleoka closed to within 47-43 with 4:44 to play.
Following a timeout, Richland ran more than 2½ minutes off the clock before a turnover set up a Landon Andrews trey with 1:56 remaining.
Trying to keep the game in reach, Culleoka missed five 3-point attempts the rest of the way.
“We had to start fouling, they hit free throws and we couldn’t hit shots,” Parks said after scoring a game-high 18 points. “We rushed a lot, took a lot of quick shots. We’ve got to move the ball better. I think we played well. They’re a great team. You’ve got to give it to them.”
Andrews, Culleoka’s leading scorer, finished with 14 points.
“We knew if we had it within five (points) with two minutes to play, we’d have a really good shot of finishing the game,” Lovett said. “We missed some open opportunities to score, and 15 turnovers didn’t help.”
Nicholson scored 17 to lead Richland, with Luna adding 13 and Randolph 10.
“We got a little stale on offense,” Loveless said. “We didn’t want to take our foot off the pedal. They made some shots. (But) when they cut it to one, our guys stepped up and answered.
“I think we needed it.”
Tigers stun Santa Fe: In the consolation contest, Kentra Frierson scored a game-high 32 points and freshman Bennett Hughes hit a pair of free throws with 7.9 seconds remaining Thursday as Mt. Pleasant defeated host Santa Fe 67-66.
For the Tigers (9-16), it was their first win over an opponent other than Hampshire since their Dec. 15 victory against Zion Christian. They will travel for a region quarterfinal Saturday against Houston County.
Santa Fe (8-9), which got 21 points from Will Monhollen in the loss, will travel to District 9-A tourney titlist Jo Byrns to open Region 5-A tourney play Saturday.
Richland boys 56, Culleoka 47
C 9 13 13 12 – 47
R 17 10 15 14 – 56
Culleoka (47) – Tavon Bagsby 8, Landon Andrews 14, Erik Mick 5, Cooper Parks 18, Hunter Harris 2
Richland (56) – Tyrell Randolph 10, Logan Helton 8, Daniel Nicholson 17, Trey Luna 13, Jace Derryberry 8
3-pointers – Culleoka 5 (Bagsby 2, Andrews 2, Parks), Richland 6 (Randolph 2, Nicholson, Luna, Derryberry 2)
Mt. Pleasant boys 67, Santa Fe 66
MP 12 17 16 22 — 67
SF 16 21 19 10 — 66
Mt. Pleasant (67) – Keevan Cooper 4, Kentra Frierson 32, Tip Marlow 4, Chris Andrews 4, Demarkus Brown 5, Bennett Hughes 11, Hardin Hughes 7
Santa Fe (66) – Colton Steward 2, Auden Slaughter 12, Josh Martin 13, Will Monhollen 21, Andy Slaughter 18
3-pointers – Mt. Pleasant 7 (Frierson 3, Brown, B. Hughes 2, H. Hughes), Santa Fe 8 (Au. Slaughter 2, Monhollen 6)
Photos by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports