In the end, it was like a punch in the gut.
After notching two impressive victories to reach the Mid-State Conference tournament championship game, Boone Central/Newman Grove came up just short of the title with an agonizing 63-62 double-overtime loss to #8 seed Pierce Saturday at Northeast Community College.
Pierce (7-11), which needed to win a ‘play-in’ game just to reach the regular tournament bracket, made a late surge to send the game to overtime and finally ended the contest with a 3-point dagger in the final seconds of the second extra period.
BCNG, meanwhile, was left to rue a number of missed opportunities to collect the ‘W’ and conference championship.
“Pierce is a good team that has lost close games, but is starting to find their rhythm the last couple of weeks,” Cardinal Coach Justin Harris commented. “It was just a hard-fought game by both teams. I’m very proud of the week we had, as we continue to progress.”
Saturday’s contest was everything a title game should be.
Pierce got the early jump, sinking a trio of first-period 3-pointers and leading 29-22 at halftime despite the heroics of Cardinal senior Carter Henry, who scored 18 of BCNG’s 22 points.
BCNG began to hit its stride following intermission and Ryan Kramer’s 3-pointer knotted the score 37-37 at the end of the third quarter. The Cardinals led by as many as six in the final stanza, but Gavin Larson of Pierce scored five straight points, including a driving basket with seven seconds to play that sent the contest to overtime. Henry, who led all scorers with 32 points, sank a 3-pointer in the initial overtime and had a chance to break a 58-all tie on a pair of free throws with 11 seconds remaining. The Card senior came up empty on the attempts, however, and the teams continued to a second extra period.
Henry again hit from long range to put BCNG on top and a Weston Choat free throw gave the Cards a late 62-60 edge. Henry returned to the foul line with 18 seconds to play, but again missed both attempts and Larson took advantage, nailing a long 3-pointer for the win.
Boone Central/Newman Grove reached the championship game with a clutch 58-55 semifinal victory over #2 seed Battle Creek, who had nipped the Cardinals 73-72 one week earlier.
“We attacked Battle Creek’s zone really well to start the game. Will Frey had a great game attacking the rim and staying aggressive. He makes us such a better team when he plays like that,” Harris commented. “Both teams shot the ball well and were efficient with their possessions. We chose to slow it down in the fourth quarter to maintain the lead, since we struggled maintaining a lead against them last week.”
BCNG opened the Mid-State tourney with a first-round 62-55 Tuesday victory over O’Neill. Free throw shooting was the key for the Cards, who sank 11-of-14 foul shots in the fourth quarter to finish the game on a 16-5 run.
“Free throw shooting came through in a big way, as we made out first 15, including 9-for-9 by Weston in the fourth quarter,” Harris praised. “Our defensive effort went down in the second quarter and we let O’Neill start feeling confident and comfortable. We fixed that mistake in the second half, as we gave up only 24 points.”
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