And on Wednesday, the Eagle senior shooting guard’s prayers were answered in the form of a 51-45 opening-round victory over Trion in the Region 6-A Tournament at Bowdon High School, setting up a Friday night semifinal showdown with top-seeded Gordon Lee.
Heard, one of several Mt. Zion players to never reach the state playoffs in any sport during his four years at Mt. Zion, said it felt great to clinch the state berth following a hard-fought battle over the Bulldogs.
“I mean, it feels unbelievable to me,” Heard said. “I knew if we played our game, I knew we’d have a good chance of going. And I’m just proud of the whole team. We went out there and played how we’re supposed to play.”
Mt. Zion coach Bill Bailey said it’s a monumental achievement for his players, especially the seniors, to reach the goal they set out at the start of the season.
“I’m so proud of these kids for getting to experience that. Christian and them all told me they’ve never been to state in anything. So this is a first time, and they deserve it,” Bailey said. “I’m real proud of them.”
Whether it was banking in a shot from 10 feet beyond halfcourt just before the first-half buzzer or keeping his team composed during the final minutes when No. 5 Trion (5-18) had cut its deficit to one point, Heard wasn’t going to allow his squad to lose on this day.
Fourth-seeded Mt. Zion led throughout the contest other than a 3-2 deficit very early, but the Bulldogs cut it to a one-point game at 43-42 with two minutes remaining on a Cody Simpson bucket.
But over the final 1:05, the Eagles (14-11) knocked down 8-of-10 free throws to claim their third win of the year over the Bulldogs.
“The free throws were big for us. Whenever it came down to it, we made the free throws we needed to make,” Heard said.
Heard’s other big moment came in the final seconds of the first half.
With Mt. Zion up 25-19, Simpson fired up an errant 3-pointer that rimmed off with time still remaining on the clock, and Heard quickly collected the rebound and took a couple dribbles before launching a shot a good distance beyond halfcourt that banked in for a major momentum swing.
Heard, who finished with a game-high 14 points and seven rebounds, actually works on those types of last-second shots all the time at practice.
“They always say I wouldn’t never have a chance to do it like that in a game, but I guess I proved them wrong (Wednesday),” Heard said.
Bailey said he wasn’t too surprised that Heard drilled it, either.
“He’ll do that in the gym. He’ll tell me, ‘Hey, coach, buy me a Coke if I hit this,’” Bailey said. “That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen him do that so many times in his career. He’s as good as I’ve ever seen at shooting last-second shots. There’s no telling how many he’s made in his career. But, yeah, that turned out to be a big shot.”
Heard wasn’t the only star for the Eagles in this one, though, as Mike Powell gave solid minutes off the bench, scoring 10 points — including eight in the first half — while junior point guard Dianta Henson dished out a game-high 11 dimes to go with his six points.
Defense was also a major key, as the Eagles took four charges on the night and forced 25 Trion turnovers.
“That’s the kind of kids we’ve got on this team,” Bailey said. “They love to play defense. And they love to take charges. Drew Norton and Jake Lemmings took over 20 apiece this year. You don’t see a lot of kids that like to do that anymore. That’s a tribute to them.”
In other Region 6-A Tournament action:
No. 2 Bowdon boys 82, No. 7 Excel Christian 37: The Red Devils (19-3) got off to the start Bowdon coach Vic Coggins feared on Wednesday, falling behind the Eagles (5-20) by nine points in the early goings en route to a 19-15 first-quarter deficit.
The Red Devils turned off the snooze button from there on, though, outscoring Excel, 67-18, the rest of the way to move into Friday night’s semifinal round against No. 3 Darlington.
“I was afraid that it was going to be this way. It was kind of one-sided the two times we played them (in the regular season), and I was afraid that we were going to come out with no emotion and kind of flat,” Coggins said.
Bowdon outscored the Eagles, 25-6, in the second quarter to grab a 40-25 halftime edge, then busted the game wide open by closing the third on a 19-1 run.
Senior forward Darious Moten (24 points, 19 rebounds, 7 blocks) led the Red Devils, followed by J.B. Stephens (13 points, 7 rebounds), Terell Thornton (12 points, 5 boards) and Paul Hammonds (9 points). Nic Tyler (10 points, 4 rebounds) led Excel.
No. 3 Darlington boys 63, No. 6 Bremen 41: While the two teams split the regular-season series, Wednesday’s opening-round contest was a one-sided affair from the opening tip.
Bremen (7-17) had an 18-6 run in the fourth quarter as its lone highlight after coming out flat for a second straight game.
The Tigers (8-12) led by as much as 34 early in the fourth quarter.
And while the season didn’t end how he would have liked, Blue Devil coach Billy Pollard said he was very proud to coach Bremen’s senior class this year.
“I don’t know what it is. It’s just one of those years. A great group of seniors, though,” Pollard said. “One of the best group of kids I’ve ever coached. I’m glad I got to see them play together. I really enjoyed coaching those seniors.”
Dylan Morgan (9 points, 9 rebounds) led Bremen, while Cedric Spivey (15 points, 6 rebounds) paced Darlington.
Region 7-AA Tournament:
Temple boys 54, Calhoun 53: The Tigers (7-18) kept their season alive with a late free throw by Adonis Ausby being the difference. Temple will now play Coosa on Friday at 4 p.m. in Rome. Dee Clayton (14 points), Kendall Lawson (12 points) and Tony Ross (8 points) led the Tigers on Wednesday night.
Temple coach Steve Robinson said his team played good team defense and played together on Wednesday.