1. Ooltewah (26-5): Barely more than a week after the Owls lost the district championship to Bradley in the teams’ third meeting this season, Ooltewah coach Jesse Nayadley found a way to surprise the Bears in game four of the series. With a little-used zone defense, Ooltewah surged to a double-digit lead, then hung on to win and ensure a home game in Monday’s sectional round. The zone may not be deployed when LaVergne visits Foster Gymnasium, but it did give the Owls momentum headed into the game that will determine their state tournament fate.
2. Bradley Central (28-6): Riding all the momentum and carrying all the expectations into last Thursday’s Region 3-AAA title game, Bradley came up short in its fourth meeting with Ooltewah. Junior Bryce Copeland led the Bears with 23 points and had a chance to win the game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but when it deflected off an Ooltewah defender’s hands, Bradley’s road to the state tournament became miles tougher. Instead of winning the region and hosting a sectional contest, Bradley will travel to Blackman, which is 23-5 after beating Lavergne 43-42 Thursday for the Region 4-AAA title.
3. McCallie (23-4): Listed at 6-foot-8, Terrance O’Donohue has been the biggest piece in McCallie’s 42-12 record over the last two seasons. When he returns for the start of the 2012-13 campaign, though, O’Donohue will be surrounded by an unfamiliar cast. Six seniors graduate from a team that finished 23-3 during the regular season, but was eliminated at home against Baylor in the state quarterfinals on Feb. 25. Most notable among them are guards C.J. Reese, who signed a Division I scholarship with Southeast Missouri State, and Cordell James. The only returning starter alongside O’Donohue is Jamal Calvin, a sharpshooter from the perimeter.
4. Baylor (15-11): Red Raiders coach Austin Clark had to think back to 1987 to remember the last time he saw a team shred his zone defense like Briarcrest Christian did Friday night. The Saints shot 18 of 24 in the first half and cruised to a 68-50 in the state semifinals at Lipscomb University. Baylor’s surprising postseason run came to an end one game short of the state final, but the Red Raiders will have a strong core back next season, led by 6-foot-6 Reggie Upshaw.
5. Howard (20-9): From the round robin that has seemingly ensued all season among District 6-AA’s top four teams, Howard emerged Thursday night. The Hustlin’ Tigers surrendered a 21-point lead, but recovered to beat Tyner 74-73 for the Region 3-AA championship. In the process, freshman Wayne Caudle became a feared addition to Howard’s frontcourt, alongside 6-foot-8 Brandon Walters, and the Hustlin’ Tigers earned a home game Monday night. They’ll face Sequatchie County (29-3), which features point guard Daniel Cartwright.