HARRIMAN — Oneida controlled Tuesday’s Region 2-A semifinal most of the way, then dug its heels in and hung on for dear life late, eventually defeating Tellico Plains 56-52 to earn its first substate berth in seven years.

The Indians led by as much as 16 points in the fourth quarter against a Tellico Plains team that entered Tuesday’s game as the champion of District 4-A but spent most of the region semifinal game looking lifeless.

But Oneida, perhaps sensing the program-changing accomplishment it was on the verge of fulfilling, went into a bit of a shell late. That allowed the Bears to go on a 12-0 run and, at one point, trim the Indians’ lead all the way down to just two points.

The Indians, though, were able to win the game at the free throw line, making 6 of 7 free throw attempts in the final minute.

Oneida coach Jacob King shouldered responsibility for Tellico Plains’ comeback, saying he had his players pull back on the reins when he should have let them continue to play their game in the waning minutes. But he applauded his team’s defense, which limited the Bears to just 30 percent shooting and only 52 points.

The Indians led by nine points at halftime and appeared to be on the verge of cruising to the region championship game, where they will rematch Harriman on Thursday, when they were up by 16 points as the fourth quarter began.

Tellico Plains had upset Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) in the District 4-A championship game 10 days earlier, and CSAS had roared back from a 22-point halftime deficit to push District 3-A champion Harriman to the wire in Tuesday’s first semifinal.

Against the Indians, though, the Bears looked sluggish. They were just 24 hours removed from playing Sunbright in the region quarterfinals. And, they were playing at Roane State Community College for the first time. Reportedly, the Tigers offered Tellico Plains $800 to move Monday’s game to RSCC after flooding postponed the game, originally scheduled for Saturday, so that fans from both schools could watch their girls teams in action. That offer was declined.

By contrast, Oneida had not played in 72 hours, and the Indians were playing their third game at Roane State.

The Bears had knocked down 13 3-point shots as they defeated Sunbright with surprising ease on Monday, but shot just 19 percent — hitting 5 of 26 — from 3-point range against the Indians. Four of those 3-pointers came from Dale Rinehart, who was 4 of 8 from the perimeter and finished with 12 points.

All of that added up to a team whose body language seemed to suggest it was ready to accept defeat midway through the third quarter.

Instead, the Bears suddenly found their groove in the fourth quarter.

Tellico Plains put up 21 points in the final period, after scoring just 31 through the first three quarters combined. Oneida, on the other hand, had just one field goal in the fourth quarter — and none in the game’s final six minutes.

The Bears didn’t seem to have an answer for the Indians’ post game most of the way. Dalton Yancey had a team-high 14 points, Elijah West had 11 points with most of them coming from the low block and Jordan Perry had six points. 

It was Yancey who scored with 6:05 to play, giving Oneida a 49-35 lead. After that, the Indians went ice-cold, with more turnovers than shot attempts, and Tellico Plains went on a 12-0 run.

The score was 49-47 after Piper Carter hit a pair of free throws with 1:03 to play. Rather than work for the steal, Tellico Plains chose to extend the game by fouling immediately. That proved to be a fatal mistake.

After Nathan Bowling hit four consecutive free throws to push Oneida’s lead to six points, Chance Botts hit two free throws to make it an eight-point lead for the Indians. Rinehart was able to get open for a 3-pointer, his fourth of the night, to cut it back to five points with 26 seconds remaining, but West made one of two free throws and the Indians sealed the win.

ONEIDA (56): Yancey 14, West 11, Bowling 11, Botts 6, Perry 6, Morgan 5, Carson 3.

TELLICO PLAINS (52): P. Carter 15, Lambert 15, Rinehart 12, Walker 4, Harris 4, M. Carter 2.