Harvesters punch ticket to national tournament after beating Thunderducks

Video by Marisol Ramirez

By SAZOUN GRAYER
@sazoungrayerETC

The Harvesters held off Richland 63-61 in the Region V championship match Saturday and became the first team to advance to next month’s NJCAA Division III national tournament.

DaJuan Ridgeway throws the ball in the air in celebration after the final buzzer went off giving Eastfield a 63-61 win over Richland and a spot in the NJCAA Division III tournament. Photo by Skye Seipp/The Et Cetera

Eastfield came out of the gate strong, moving the ball well and capitalizing on some mistakes by Richland to give them momentum early. Guard DaJuan Ridgeway scored 19 points to help boost the team.

The Harvesters made some big defensive plays, including two blocks by freshman Kyree Rogers, that stifled Richland’s offense.

“Everybody stepped up,” forward D’Angelo Smith said. “We knew it was our time. We came out strong like we wanted.”

The two teams traded baskets for most of the game, and after a turnover with 10:25 to play, Richland tied it up 49-49.

“We just stayed together,” guard Calvin Williams said. “We didn’t let them get in our heads. We knew we were going to win. We just had to stay focused. If we win, we go to Minnesota. So, we tried to focus on that.”

In the waning minutes, the players were visibly tired. Sweat poured down their faces as a raucous crowd roared. With 40 seconds remaining, guard TaMarcus Butler hit a 3-pointer to put Eastfield up 61-57, making it a 4-point game and sealing the win for the Harvesters.

“Huge,” head coach Anthony Fletcher said about the shot. “That was awesome. That’s a great moment for him. It’s going to be a moment he’s going to remember for a very, very, very long time.”

Eastfield will represent the South Central District in the national tournament that begins March 11. The Harvesters won the national title in 1997 and placed second in 2013, 2004 and 1992. This is their first tournament appearance since 2016, when they finished fourth.

“Feels great,” Fletcher said. “We got a lot more work to do. A lot more hours. But that’s good, you know. That’s what we live for. That’s why we do this.”

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