ALCOA — The goal for Alcoa’s boys basketball teams over the past few years has always been to reach the state tournament, but it has fallen two or three games short.
Mekhi Carter has been a part of each disappointing exit from the region tournament over the last three seasons. Now as a senior, he was one last opportunity to help the Tornadoes get to where they are striving to be.
Carter stepped up to get the season off on the right foot, hitting a 3-pointer with a minute left to help Alcoa fight off a Grace Christian comeback and claim a 91-87 victory on Tuesday.
“I just had the win on my mind,” Carter said. “I had been cold the whole game, so I knew I had to hit a shot and get that win.”
That three gave Alcoa (1-0) an 84-83 lead after Grace Christian (0-1) battled back from a 20-point deficit in the first half to take its first lead since it led 17-16 midway through the first quarter. The Tornadoes never surrendered the lead after regaining the advantage.
Carter was just 2-for-9 from beyond the arc before that attempt and had missed a pair of free throws on the previous possession that would have tied the game.
“I expect him to shoot it a lot better than he did tonight, but that shows a lot that he was able to come back and make that big shot,” Alcoa head coach Joel Kirk said.
Alcoa jumped out to a 43-23 lead in the second quarter with a 27-6 run that spanned the final minutes of the first quarter and midway through the second.
The Rams, however, responded with a 16-5 spurt to close out the first half to head into the intermission down 48-39. The Tornadoes held them at bay in the third, but an 11-2 run to begin the fourth put Grace Christian on top before Alcoa won late.
“I don’t like to lose, but I’m proud of my team for how we competed,” Grace Christian’s first-year head coach Brandon Clifford said. “If our goal is to get better for February, then I think we got better today.
“These guys showed a ton of grit. I told them we could get back in it, and fortunately they believed me and they stuck it out. We grinded it out and had a chance to win, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
Junior guard CJ Gettelfinger scored a game-high 40 points for the Rams, setting a new program record, while Grant Ledford added 22. Dante Harris went toe-for-toe with Gettelfinger, notching 35 points for the Tornadoes. Carter complimented the sophomore guard with 17 points.
If nothing else, it is a symbolic victory for Alcoa; a win over a team that reached the destination it has had its eyes on.
Grace Christian has participated in the Class A state tournament each of the past two seasons, downing unanimous No. 1 Humboldt last year to reach the semifinals.
The Tornadoes are hoping to achieve that level of success, but a season-opening victory will not be the reason they get there.
“It’s good for our program, but it’s early — we have 24 of these left to go,” Kirk said. “That’s our ultimate goal, but our focus is out here on the practice floor and working every day. That hard work will pay off.”
Alcoa 52, Grace Christian 33
The Lady Tornadoes opened the game on a 28-2 run en route to a season-opening win over the Lady Rams.
“I thought our defense was really good, and what is great about that is that is what we have really focused on,” Alcoa girls basketball coach David Baumann said. “Last year, we weren’t very good defensively. We have a little different personnel now and I think we have a better ability to matchup man-to-man.
“I tell the girls that good defense doesn’t take nights off, and that was a good start. Allowing only 33 points will win most ballgames.”
Senior Madison McClurg scored a game-high 18 points for Alcoa, while freshman Brenna Ridge added 10. Junior Cassie Peters was the Lady Rams’ lone scorer in double figures with 12 points.