Most fans who came to opening night Friday of the 2014 Southerner Classic, the annual holiday basketball tournament sponsored by Lee-Davis High School, probably arrived in Mechanicsville with a singular question: Who is Banner Christian School?
By tournament’s end Saturday night, they left they gymnasium making a huge impression though they didn’t take the title.
The Bearcats from Chesterfield upset the host Confederates 72-67 in the first round, then battled J.R. Tucker in the championship contest before succumbing to the Tigers 78-73. Junior guard Zach Grant scored 29 against Lee-Davis, then poured in 40 against Tucker, leading to Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. He made 13 three-pointers over the two-game stretch.
Lee-Davis forward Tariq Caldwell, who was named to the All-Tournament team, scored 21 against the Bearcats, and noted the Confederates’ inability to take advantage of second half opportunities that led to the unexpected loss.
“We made a crucial offensive foul. We missed four free throws in a row,” Caldwell said. “We made awful mistakes at the end of the game.”
The Bearcats took an 11-point lead to intermission, but Lee-Davis chipped away, and tied the game at 61 on a Caldwell free throw with 4:38 left in the game. Banner Christian only rotated eight players, and down the stretch played with four players having four personal fouls. Their defense tightened, and despite very physical play by both teams in the lane in the final possessions, nary a player was disqualified.
After missing the aforementioned four free throws, Ladarein Autry’s traditional three-point play cut the Bearcats lead to 68-67 with just over a minute left. After a turnover, Lee-Davis had the chance to take the lead, but they returned the favor on a turnover of their own, forcing them to foul. The Bearcats scored four in a row at the charity stripe to win it.
The Confederates regrouped 24 hours later and battled Colonial Heights for rights to third place and again, they fell behind at halftime, this time by four points at 30-26. But Lee-Davis fought nip and tuck down the stretch, and, on this night, forced extra play, going to overtime tied at 63.
Irving Jones, who did not play against Banner Christian, led the Confederates with 18 points, Autry adding 16, as Lee-Davis held off the Colonials, but not clinching the win until the final buzzer. Caldwell scored 13 and added 18 rebounds in the victory.
Caldwell and Grant were joined on the All-Tournament team by Jesse Sturgis of Banner Christian, Jacob Ezell of Colonial Heights, and the Tucker duo of Paul Flowers and Chase McPherson. McPherson scored 27 points, taking advantage of his height inside, in the title victory Saturday night.
The Tigers will present a challenge to new Conference 20 rival Hanover come tournament time in February, the Hawks only defeating Tucker by three in a matchup in the Conference Tip-Off Tournament Dec. 6. And Banner Christian? The Bearcats exited Mechanicsville with a 3-9 record, but also with the newfound respect of teams and fans north of the James River.