KANSAS – It might not seem like much of a consolation, but there may not be a tougher tournament out there than Old Fort was in the Division IV district at Lakota High School here Tuesday night.
All it took was the luck of a possession arrow and a last-second 3-point goal that required such athleticism, there should have been a panel of judges on the sideline holding up scorecards.
One might assume the double-pump 20-foot swish from the left corner by Toledo Christian’s Garshawn Paynther for a 62-60 Eagle victory surely would have rated at least a 9.5 on average.
What is certain is there will again be an all-Toledo Area Athletic Conference final here Friday when the Eagles take their 17-8 record into a game with league champion Ottawa Hills at 7 p.m. The Green Bears (21-1) advanced by beating Calvert in Tuesday’s semifinal opener.
“I just thought I’ve got to do something to get us out of here,” Paynther said of the game-winner. “I’m a senior, I’m a leader and I’ve got to step up and take us home. And that’s what I did. It’s one heck of a feeling.”
Old Fort led by nine at 49-40 on a pair of Brad Bannister foul shots with 5:41 to play. But the Eagles, who went 0-for-10 from 3-point range through three quarters, hit three long balls in rallying before Paynther’s bomb sealed it.
Two of the big shots came from sophomore Mason Hecklinger. The third one, by Matthew Brumbaugh, pulled Toledo Christian to within one at 58-57 with 1:33 to play.
Brumbaugh hit two foul shots with 36 seconds left to put the Eagles on top for the first time since late in the first half. Teammate Kyle Kempton missed the front end of a one-and-one with 19.6 seconds left with Old Fort’s Hunter Perry getting the rebound.
Perry drew a foul with 12.6 seconds to go and hit both free throws for a 60-59 Stockader lead. Toledo Christian coach David McWhinnie then called time with eight seconds to go.
“The play was supposed to go to Kyle but Hunter Perry covered him really well,” McWhinnie said of Kempton, who led Christian with 21 points and 10 rebounds. “Garshawn was option No. 2.”
But Perry stepped away from Kempton and his block of Paynther’s shot as he drove the lane was ruled a held ball with 1.8 seconds left.
“I about got whiplash turning around to see who had the arrow. Unfortunately, it was them,” Old Fort coach Eric Hoover said solemnly afterward.
The pass went to Paynther in the corner, but he couldn’t get off a clean shot because Bannister was there to contest. So Paynther, who finished with 18 points, double-clutched and hit the shot as the buzzer sounded.
“(The inbound pass) went wide and the best shot you could get was about what he got,” McWhinnie said. “They covered it well; he had to clutch. Fortunately, Garshawn’s a strong kid. Most kids wouldn’t be able to get that one in but Garshawn made a great play.”
“I thought we defended it just about as good as you could possibly could defend it,” Hoover said. “Two hands in his face, he had to double-clutch. He made a tough shot. I don’t know what else we could have possibly done.”
At the other end, the Eagles tried every conceivable defensive approach to slow Perry, the Midland Athletic League’s Player of the Year. There were a variety of looks, including a box-and-one, diamond-and-one and triangle-and-two.
Perry finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but it was an all-night struggle for Old Fort’s talented senior guard.
“Obviously, Hunter is a phenomenal player,” McWhinnie said. “I’ve been watching that kid play; we saw a bunch of films on him. He’s the real deal. He scores 29 points a game.
“He’s one of the best scorers I’ve ever coached against and we felt like if we played man, he’d get some of our better defenders in foul trouble,” he said. “We thought maybe having a second guy as a spy might be a good thing for Hunter.”
Freshman Hootie Cleveland nailed five 3-pointers, including three straight over a four-minute span in the third period to give the Stockader offense a lift. Maison Steyer added nine points.
“He was killing us. He was on fire,” McWhinnie said of Cleveland. “We knew he was a good shooter he shoots 41 percent from the 3-point line. It seemed like he was shooting 100 percent.”
Meanwhile, the Stockader pressure defense worked the Eagles for 19 turnovers.
“I can’t believe anybody plays harder than what we did on defense tonight,” Hoover said. “We were out there flying around like crazy. I’m so thankful that we’ve got guys who just don’t get tired. The motor runs forever.”
And then suddenly, a double-pump 3-pointer shut everything down.
“I don’t know if there’s a harder way to lose than that right there,” Hoover said. “We were in position to win the game.”