Of all the scenarios powerful Gainesville could imagine on its way to a district championship, this was certainly not one of them.
While the Bulldogs, owners of a 25-1 record, along with a number nine ranking in Class 2 hoops, didn't expect the Thayer Bobcats to roll over for them, Gainesville sure didn't expect the Cats to end their season in the semi-finals of the Class 2 District 2 Tournament, either.
But that's just what happened.
Playing inspired ball in front of a packed-to-the-gills home crowd at Thayer High School, the fifth-seeded Bobcats (14-14) stunned the top-seeded Bulldogs, 56-51 March 4.
The Bobcats' magical charge at the district title ended with a hard-fought 55-48 loss to Norwood March 6.
In the semi-finals, Thayer blitzed Gainesville by outscoring the Bulldogs 31-15 in the second half.
The two squads had met a week previous, with Gainesville clawing out a 74-67 win at home over Thayer.
And this one was just as hard-fought and intense, especially in the second half.
The Bulldogs had taken a 36-25 lead at the half and upped that to 13 points early in the third.
Enter Justin Shipp.
Shipp dropped in two triples in the third, while Austin Henry (four points) added one of his own, to pull the Cats within three, 43-40, after three. Shipp led all scorers with a game-high 25 points.
And Shipp was just getting started.
He racked up six of Thayer's first eight points in the fourth, pushing the home team in front 48-43.
Gainesville edged within a point, thanks to a 4-0 run, but Tommy Martin (five points) and Dylan Dennis (12 points) hit a layup and free throw to give Thayer a 51-47 cushion with 2:26 remaining.
Gainesville was whistled for an offensive foul and then missed the front end of a one-and-one, mistakes that Thayer built one.
Dennis and Henry hit a charity toss apiece to extend the Bobcats' advantage to 53-47 with 23 ticks showing on the clock.
The Bulldogs threw the ball away twice in the last 50 seconds of play, while the Bobcats hit three free throws in the last 15 seconds of play to end Gainesville's season with a record of 25-2.
The game was knotted at 16-all after the first period. Ricky Smith (10 points) pumped in six of Thayer's points in the frame.
Thayer was up 23-22 midway in the second, when the Bulldogs went on a 14-2 surge to pull ahead 36-25 at the break.
Dakota Nash paced Gainesville with 20 points, 18 of those coming in the first half of play.
In the championship game against the second-seeded Norwood Pirates (22-7), Thayer jumped in front 8-0 to start the game and built that advantage to 16-5 late in the first.
But the hot-shooting Pirates pulled within two, 18-16, at the end of one period.
Norwood used a 9-2 run in the second to move on top 27-22 at intermission.
The Cats eased within a point early in the third, but the Pirates hit Thayer with a 9-3 run to keep the home team on its heels.
Trailing 38-32 after three, Thayer kept plugging away, but Norwood continued to build its lead.
Shipp (22 points) and Henry (six points) drilled a couple of treys late in the fourth, but it was just not enough, as Norwood ended Thayer's bid for a second straight district title, 55-48.
Dennis finished with 12 points for Thayer, with Smith adding eight.
Norwood's Riley Jenkins paced all scorers with a game-high 29 points.
Cody Hull followed with 17 for the Pirates.
In opening-round action, the Bobcats topped Summersville, a team that had beaten Thayer twice this season, 71-53 March 1.
Thayer jumped in front 16-6 after the first period and refused to give the Wildcats much ground after that.
Smith tallied 16 points, while Dennis had 13, Heath Barbee 11 and Henry 10.