RUTLEDGE — Grainger coach Adam Wolfenbarger knows his team well and was confident if they could weather the storm early in their game against Gatlinburg-Pittman Tuesday night and the Grizzlies’ depth, size, speed and athleticism could eventually wear down the Highlanders. His strategy worked to perfection as Grainger came from behind in the second half to post a 78-72 victory over the visitors from Sevier County.
After G-P scored eight straight points to round out the opening period, things look a bit bleak, but Wolfenbarger said he told his troops to stay the course and things would turn around which of course they did. “I knew we were going to give up some points early and people may have been squalling ‘what are we doing, what’s going on, get back on defense’ but we got the pace to where we wanted it in the first half and then our depth came into play.”
The Grizzlies needed a spark and found it in Ty Overbay, who came into the game in the third period and provided the push Grainger was looking for. “Ty came off the bench with a lot of energy in the third quarter and I felt like he and that group turned the tide for us. We wanted to get them spread out and drive the basketball and that’s what we did. We felt we had some miss-matches coming in.”
Ethan Stivett led G-P with 24 points, Kevin Burkett scored 19 and Wyatt Smith had 14. “I thought G-P played pretty dadgum well as Stivett had 24 and gosh, it felt like he had 44,” Wolfenbarger said. “That’s why I’m proud of my team because we weren’t fantastic in the first half, but I felt we beat Gatlinburg when they played pretty well. That is something that we haven’t done.”
Tristan Warfield led Grainger with 21 points and Wolfenbarger said he is glad to see his junior forward progressing after an ankle injury a few weeks ago. “We are a lot better when Tristan is healthy. He rolled that ankle against Morristown East and has been a little slow getting back. He might have played a little bit too much last week but if you roll him out there, you may just get that Tristan. He’s a big cog for our success and when he is healthy and is really going, I feel like we can be pretty good.” Jaxon Williams lit the nets for 16 points and Brody Grubb added 12.
The Grizlies led 11-8 with two and a half minutes to go in the opening period but Gatlinburg-Pittman scored the final eight points to stake claim to a 16-11 lead at the end of the first. Grubb pulled the Grizzlies closer with a triple early on and then Warfield banged home a three to get Grainger to within a basket at 27-25. Those were two of 11 points Warfield posted in the second period but Stivett scored right before halftime to give G-P a 36-30 lead.
The Highlanders enjoyed their biggest lead of the contest at 45-36 but that was when Williams took over. He had two strong moves to the basket where he scored, was fouled and hit the free throws to post six points in a 17 second span. The Grizzlies kept chipping away and eventually took the lead for the first time since the opening period when Williams hit a downtown shot to make it 56-54. Overbay attempted a three-pointer on the last play of the third but was fouled and calmly hit all three free tosses with 0.9 seconds remaining to make the score 59-54.
Emmanuel Atkins and Trey Robinson were both true on their deeps shots as it appeared the Grizzlies were ready to pull away for good. The Highlanders were able to narrow the lead to a bucket on two occasions as Stivett completed an old-fashioned three-point play and the score stood at 71-69 with 2:11 to go. The contest was a matter of free throws after that as the Grizzlies went seven-of-10 at the line the rest of the way to ice the 78-72 victory.
Grainger evens their record at 9-9 and will be at The Den again on Friday as they host league-leading Greeneville. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.