HANCEVILLE — Swatting down his fifth blocked shot of the night, Jace Haggermaker landed on the floor while shaking his head.
For the Tanner High big man, the message was simple.
"I wanted them to know that I wasn't going away anytime soon," Haggermaker said.
Message sent, and received.
Haggermaker delivered a strong performance, recording a double-double as he led third-ranked Tanner past No. 4 Vincent 53-39 on Tuesday night in the Class 2A Northwest Regional semifinals.
Tanner (25-4) advances to face Hatton on Friday in the regional final.
"Big Jace was getting after it down there," Tanner point guard Bubba Smith said. "He brought the energy tonight. You make sure the big man gets the ball when he's battling down there like that."
Hard to disagree.
Matched up against Vincent's athletic 6-foot-6 freshman center EJ Datcher, Haggermaker dominated the lane, pouring in 13 points while grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking seven shots.
"Coach told me that he's a great shot blocker, so we've been working on post moves at practice," Haggermaker said. "All of us, we came out determined. We weren't going to have a letdown like we had last year."
Datcher said the battle in the paint was physical.
"The guy was big and strong," Datcher said of Haggermaker. "He got the best of me several times."
With Haggermaker frequently winning battles underneath the basket, Tanner built a 13-point cushion by halftime and maintained a double-figure lead for most of the second half.
And with unrelenting defense, the Rattlers made sure a comeback never happened.
Vincent struggled to score against Tanner's long and athletic lineup, shooting 21.1 percent on the game.
Tyler Williams led Vincent with 16 points, and Datcher tossed in 12.
"We've picked up the intensity on defense," Tanner guard Greg Maclin said. "Because of what happened last year, losing to Mars Hill in our second game here at Wallace State (in the Class 2A Northwest Regional final, we learned our lesson about what happens when you come out flat on defense."
Maclin finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for Tanner, while Smith added eight points and six rebounds.
Facing a top-five opponent, Tanner cruised into the regional final. But a peak performance?
"I don't think that was the best basketball we can play," Tanner coach Chris Whitt said. "When we beat Austin (in late January), we were playing really well. After that, it kind of dropped off some. But I think we're getting back to that point. We did play well tonight."
Contact Justin Graves at 256-340-2460 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.