Grace Christian knocks Cornersville out of the postseason

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The Cornersville cheerleaders attempt to rile a standing room only crowd up in the Region 4-A opener at Grace Christian Academy on Saturday in Franklin.
Tribune photos by Mike Inglsbee

During the 2016-17 season when Grace Christian Academy-Franklin (11-15) and Cornersville (8-18) were paired in the same district, the two teams engaged in some lopsided battles with the Bulldogs winning the district opener by 20 points before losing at Grace by 22 points.

The Bulldogs walloped the Lions by 19 points at Columbia State Community College in the district tournament opener to gain a region tournament berth.

Grace Christian Academy (GCA) did not graduate a single player from that squad, while the Bulldogs graduated just two players.

The Lions provided one of the most shocking District 7-A Tournament upsets in 2018 with a three point win in the tournament title game over highly regarded LEAD Academy (24-4), who had beaten GCA by 29 and 24 points during the regular season.

The Bulldogs came exasperatingly close to pulling the four over one seed upset in the Region 4-A opener Saturday night at GCA, taking a lead into the fourth quarter and keeping the game tied until just over four minutes to go while remaining down just four points with 2:38 left in the game until the Lions took control of the contest at the foul line to pull away for a 61-51 win.

"(The plan) was to slow down their best player," CHS coach Matt Hagan, who has led the Bulldogs to two straight region appearances after taking over following a one-win season, said. "We did a good job of that before they started getting to the free throw line in the second half."

"We always want to win the rebound and turnover categories and we did that," Hagan continued. "We didn't play very smart on offense for most of the game. Too many one and two pass possessions."

The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle over the Lions with a 39-26 edge and dominated the offensive rebounding total with a whopping 18-5 advantage.

However, the Bulldogs were a dismal 8-for-32 from long range and converted just 7-of-14 from the free throw line while the Lions rarely missed, connecting on 18-of-22.

Tyler Wolaver (1) steps to the free throw line with three minutes remaining against GCA Saturday night.

Tyler Wolaver capped off a tremendous sophomore season with a 12-point, 14-rebound effort, Darian Bush added a 10-point and eight assist game and senior Kolbe McMahon finished a great career with a 10-point, seven rebound, and three steal performance.

Cam Whitaker and Eli Woodard each chipped in nine points apiece, while combining for five of the Bulldogs eight total 3-pointers.

The Lions were led by Mason McKnatt with 22 points and Cole Scott added 17 points and 10 rebounds.

McMahon and Woodard started the game with four points each and the score was close at 11-10 Lions before Gavin Johnson hit his only bucket of the game with 40 seconds in the opening frame to give GCA a 14-11 lead, heading into the second period.

Bush started the second quarter with a nice up and under layup and followed that possession with two free throws to give the Bulldogs its first lead at 15-14, but that lead was short-lived after Grant Soloman knocked down the second of three triples to put the Lions on top at 17-15.

The Lions started to pull away, going up by six points on a McKnatt 3-pointer, but McMahon answered with a trifecta of his own to bring the lead down to 24-21 before Scott muscled his way in for a layup as the half ended with a 26-21 GCA advantage.

The third quarter belonged to the Bulldogs as the visitors grabbed a 36-31 lead following a Bush 3-pointer and then after a slight Lion run, Whitaker knocked down the first of three triples to push the lead to 39-34 with 1:13 remaining in the period.

McKnatt knocked down another three to bring the Lions within two at 39-37 heading into the final frame.

The two teams duked it out back and forth for a large part of the fourth quarter, but the momentum shifted after a few questionable calls fell in the home teamsí favor and following a Whitaker three that brought the score back to 52-48 with 2:38 left, the Lions won the game at the free throw line, ending the game on an 18-8 run after the last tie.

"In the end they had better possessions in the fourth and got to the charity stripe," Hagan said. "They were plus 11 points when it came to free throws and kept their composure a little better than we did."

The Bulldogs won 15 total games over the past two seasons after winning just one game the year before Hagan took the helm and with just one player leaving the team due to graduation this year, the Bulldogs have to be a favorite to contend for a district title in 2018-19.

Cornersville 11 10 18 12-51

Grace Christian 14 12 11 24-61

Cornersville (61): Tyler Wolaver 12, Darian Bush 10, Kolbe McMahon 10, Cam Whitaker 9, Eli Woodard 9, Caleb Crowell 1.

3-Point goals (8): Whitaker 3, Woodard 2, Bush 2, McMahon.

Grace Christian (61): Mason McKnatt 22, Cole Scott 17, Grant Soloman 9, Jayce Brown 7, Austin Kasick 3, Gavin Johnson 3.

3-Point goals (9): McKnatt 4, Soloman 3, Kasick, Johnson.

Halftime Score: Grace Christian 26, Cornersville 21.