By MacKenzie Bates - Sports Editor
Jan. 29, 2014 — To East Carter boys basketball coach Brandon Baker and the Raiders, there is no such thing as a good loss.
On Monday in Grayson playing the defending 16th Region champion Fleming County Panthers, the home team impressed many as they hung in there with coach Mark Starn’s veteran ball club.
Fleming County senior forward Brady Saunders hit a basket in the lane with 12.8 seconds left to go as the Panthers defeated East Carter 67-65 in Grayson on Monday Night.
East Carter (8-9) had a shot to win the game as time expired but Cole Brammer’s 3-point field goal fell just short.
While Baker and East wanted the win, he could tell a big difference in his team.
“When we got off the court and back in the locker room, we had some frustrated guys,” Baker said. “I had some guys that were hurt and upset at the result, they were mad about the outcome and that’s a good sign. You can’t have the feeling of satisfaction of playing them close.”
“We come to practice and we work hard,” Senior Connor Greene said. “We want to play the best and beat the best. We fought hard but we just came up short.”
The Raiders were led in scoring on Brammer’s 14 points. Cameron Sparks scored 12 points and Donald Damron contributed with ten points.
Despite being down two in the final seconds, Baker called a timeout to set up a play in hopes that one of their shooters could get a shot off to potentially win the game.
“We definitely wanted Cole, Connor or Cameron to get the ball,” Baker said. “We’re going to go for it after the timeout. We just weren’t able to finish the cut to the basket.”
After trailing for most of the game, East Carter (8-9) took the lead on a Cameron Sparks basket to lead 61-59 with 5:15 left. Green’s runner in the lane pushed East back in front at 65-64 with 39.8 seconds left, setting up Saunders’s shot to put Fleming ahead for good.
The Raiders shot 48 percent for the game but only made seven trips to the free throw line.
Panthers senior Troy Steward led all scorers with 28 points, including five 3-pointers to pace Fleming. As a team, the Panthers shot 59 percent for the game, including almost 67 percent on 16-of-24 field goals in the first half.
“To be able to beat good teams, you’ve got to take punches but you’ve also got to throw punches,” Baker said. “I definitely thought we were ready for the fight. We just weren’t able to get over the hump to get that big play down the stretch.”
Both Baker and Greene said the Fleming game was a measuring stick to see where they are at going in to February.
“It just shows we’re there and we belong in the hunt for a 16th Region title,” Greene said.
“They want to get to that next step and Fleming is a nice team,” Baker said. “They’re one of the top teams in the Region. If we can get in to what we want to do and compete each possession, who is to say we can’t be there?”
MacKenzie Bates can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 1-800-247-6142.