Northeast got off to the perfect start in its GHSA Class AA first-round tournament game against Bryan County on Saturday, playing with urgency and intensity to build an 11-point first-quarter lead.
Then the Raiders fell off a bit, and the Redskins battled back to tie it 46 with 4:50 in the fourth quarter.
But Santez Kinder wasnt about to let the Raiders lose, as he drew two fouls in the final 23.8 seconds and went 4-of-4 from the free-throw line to give Northeast a 59-54 victory.
Im like the top scorer on the team, so I thought about how I should lead the team, Kinder said. So I just kept it going so the team wouldnt give up. I didnt give up myself. I just kept it moving. It was win or go home.
Kinder led the Raiders with 19 points, which is what head coach Kevin Grooms asked of his junior and third-year starter.
(Kinders) gotta step up. Its tournament time, Grooms said. Whenever youre a three-year starter, were depending on you because youre the one whos been there three times with me. Were gonna follow his boat.
Northeast mightve struggled after a double-overtime win over Putnam County on Tuesday night to clinch the Region 4-AA championship, but Grooms reminded the Raiders of their 5 a.m. practices and hard work to get to the playoffs.
We told the guys that the first game at the state tournament was going to be a hard one, Grooms said. The first one is always going to be hard. Then its OK after that, because youre just trying to do so much. Just get the first one out of the way, then well be OK.
The biggest struggle for Northeast was at the free-throw line, where the team went 13-of-30. Grooms said it was the biggest thing to work on going into Tuesday nights home game against Early County, a 62-58 winner over Josey.
It was just absurd for us to miss that many, because its not something that we do, Grooms said. Its something that we treasure, and we shoot them all the time, so I know were going back to the drawing board (Sunday) and shoot a whole lot of free throws on Monday.
Kinder chalked it up to those first-round jitters.
It was just like the crowd, Kinder said. We were just overexcited, thinking that the game was over, and everybody got overexcited and kept missing. But we sealed the game, we won the game, and thats the good thing.