- By Jeff Gilbert Contributing Writer
If it was March, what happened at Springfield High School on Saturday night would be called madness.
Call it that anyway.
First, sixth-seeded Shawnee scored eight of the last nine points of regulation and the last five in overtime to defeat No. 7 Bellefontaine 49-47 in the opener of a Division II sectional tripleheader.
RELATED: Saturday’s high school scoreboard
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“We just didn’t stop fighting,” said Shawnee senior Aaron Schack, who scored a career-high 36 points and 13 of his team’s final 17 points.
There were more heroes and almost-heroes to come.
In the final game, No. 8 Graham stunned — if that’s a strong enough word — No. 2 Kenton Ridge 56-54 in overtime with what amounted to two game-winning shots, first by Matt Flora to force overtime and then by Tristen Henry to end it.
The Cougars (16-7) rallied in the final minute of regulation on a putback by Calvin Dibert and a steal and layup by Quinton Roach to gain a 51-48 lead with 35 seconds left. The Cougars defended well and had the ball with 1.7 seconds left. All they had to do was inbound it to end the game.
Then the madness of tournament season made Graham (11-12) a winner.
The inbounds pass was tipped off a Cougar, and the Falcons had possession with four-tenths of a second remaining near the left corner under their basket. Henry went through his options and finally found Flora open across the floor near the right corner. Flora executed the quick catch-and-shoot and made a 3-pointer that counted.
“Tristen just passed it to me and I just shot it and hoped it went in,” Flora said. “I was the last resort.”
KR didn’t score in overtime until Roach, who led the Cougars with 17 points, made a deeper-than-deep 3-pointer with 14 seconds left and a 54-53 lead.
“That was an unbelievable shot,” Flora said.
Graham called timeout and had 11 seconds to go the length of the floor. Again, the first option was cut off. Henry got the ball on the right side, drove into the lane and put up a left-handed shot that bounced in. A foul was called and the clock stopped at all zeroes. But the horn didn’t sound.
Henry made the free throw with no one else around the lane. Then the officials decided the game wasn’t over. All the Cougars could do was throw long and hope for a miraculous tip. Graham batted the pass down.
“It’s unbelievable how we fought and came back and won that one,” Flora said. “We’re just a competitive team and want to win.”
Graham first-year coach Nathan Warner knew the play to force overtime was a longshot.
“We didn’t expect to have a very good look at it, and we knew it was going to have to come from a corner,” he said. “We went through the options and he was literally the last option.”
At the end of overtime, Warner didn’t want to settle for a jump shot.
“When you’re going to the rim good things can happen and we thought we could get a foul or a layup,” he said. “Our initial attack happened, they cut it off and we kicked it out. Tristen attacked immediately and KR just couldn’t rotate quick enough before he got to the hoop.”
The loss for KR was as stunning as last year’s first-round win that came after a winless regular season.
“I’m proud of our kids to come back from the type of year we had last year,” coach Kris Spriggs said. “We’ve had our share of games like that where it’s gone our way. You’ve got to give them credit.”
In Wednesday’s semifinals, Shawnee (15-8) faces No. 4 Urbana (15-7) at 6 p.m. and Graham faces No. 5 Carroll (14-9), a 61-46 winner over No. 3 Tippecanoe (12-11), at 7:30.
Shawnee trailed Bellefontaine (10-13) 41-34 halfway through the fourth quarter when head coach Chris McGuire reminded his team to relax and not force shots.
“We just said, ‘Hey, let’s grind it out,’” McGuire said. “We’ve grinded out a lot of these games.”
Behind Schack’s scoring and team defense, the Braves saved their season against a team they had already beaten twice. And Schack made the game’s biggest shot on a 3-pointer that tied the score at 41 with 1:56 left in regulation.
“I knew they were counting on me, so early in that possession I had it in my mind that I was going to have to take a shot,” Schack said. “And it went in.”
The game went to overtime tied at 42, and Bellefontaine jumped to a 47-44 lead. Shawnee’s Camden Van Velzor made two free throws with 1:40 left. After the Chieftains threw the ball out of bounds, Schack made two free throws with 32 seconds left for a 48-47 lead.
The Chieftains missed a long 3-pointer and Schack got the rebound. He made one free throw with seven seconds left, and the Chieftains missed another long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Schack scored the Braves’ first 13 points to help them to a 21-11 lead before Bellefontaine rallied behind 6-foot-5 center Spencer George, who scored 18 points. But Schack kept finding ways to score to keep the Braves close.
“You’re a tough cover,” McGuire said, “when you can score from three, score off the dribble, score at the line.”