WOODSTOCK – Etowah needed to shoot the lights out on its home court to run with Wheeler’s taller, more athletic lineup, and that’s exactly what happened.
Senior Etowah guard Destin Porche finished with 34 points and seven of his team’s 14 3-pointers, but he was outdone by an 35-point effort from Wheeler guard Avery Patterson as the top-seeded Wildcats pulled out a thrilling 76-74 Region 5AAAAAA semifinal victory on Monday night. Wheeler had swept the regular season series by a combined 37 points.
The Eagles sent an early message when Josh Fulenwider met Wheeler forward Jaylen Brown at the rim for an emphatic block and Porche drained a deep 3 at the other end. Wheeler’s offense woke up after the Eagles jumped out to a 15-8 lead, roaring back with a 15-0 run spearheaded by dominant play inside from Daniel Giddens.
Porche caught fire towards the end of the second quarter, banking in a 3 to cap off his 18-point first half and send the Etowah student body into a frenzy. But it was Patterson’s turn in the second half. The senior made four of his eight 3-pointers in the third quarter to help stake Wheeler to a 56-52 lead heading into the final frame.
“I realized he hit a couple of shots, but I didn’t know he had that many points,” Patterson said of Porche. “Really, I was just worrying about pulling out the W at the end of the day.” Etowah emerged from a frantic final 30 seconds with multiple chances to tie or take the lead. Trailing by one, the Eagles swarmed to foul Giddons as he received an inbounds pass, and the hulking center traveled while backing up to protect the ball. On the ensuing possession, Etowah guard Jack Shaughnessy was called for an offensive foul while trying to create space for himself against Patterson.
After Patterson made 1 of 2 free throws to give Wheeler a two-point lead, Shaughnessy brought the ball up the court and was fouled. His first free
throw rolled in, but his game-tying attempt caught the back of the rim and bounced out.
After another 1-of-2 showing at the line for the Wildcats, Porche’s desperation heave as time expired missed wide.
“When we shoot the ball like that, when we’re shooting the ball well, I don’t care who we are or who we’re playing, we’re in the game,” Etowah coach Don Hurlburt said. “Those kids, that was obviously our best game of the season. We weren’t in it just to show up and be the No. 4 guy. We were in it to beat Wheeler and compete for a region championship.”