SHARPSVILLE – James Baker is going to think about the last two free throw attempts of his high school career for a long period of time, perhaps a lifetime. That’s how high school sports work on a young athlete’s psyche.
With Rossville trailing Tri-Central 67-65 with 8.8 seconds left in overtime in Tuesday’s Class A Sectional 54 quarterfinal, the Hornets’ senior point guard went to the free throw line for two free throws. Baker nailed the first one, but the rim wasn’t as kind on the second one, as a lengthy scramble for a rebound fell to the hands of little-used Tri-Central reserve Michael Trine.
The junior hit both free throws with 1.2 seconds left and, following a missed desperation heave by Austin Miller, the Trojan faithful stormed the court, securing a surprising 69-66 victory.
“The underclassmen have another chance. I hope they don’t forget what this feels like,” said Rossville head coach Dave Mosson. “This is like the 27 th year in a row where we’ve been knocked out in the first round. It’s getting old.”
It’s actually the fourth consecutive year and the seventh time in the 11 years the Hornets (10-12) have lost their first sectional game.
None of the Hornets’ supposed strengths – a difficult schedule to prepare them for the postseason, a size advantage at almost every position and strong man-to-man defense – came to fruition on a night where shots that normally go in didn’t fall.
Miscues down the stretch – Mosson cited turnovers, missed free throws, missed box outs and missed play calls – hurt the Hornets in the final minute of regulation and overtime.
“Our Achilles’ heel all year has been mistakes or omissions in crunch-time situations,” he said. “Execution down the stretch hurt us.”
Tri-Central (10-11) was playing its third straight game without starters Seth Blunck and Dalton Davis, both dismissed from the team prior to the Clinton Prairie game on Feb. 15. The Trojans are 3-0 without them and have won six straight contests overall.
Without Blunck, senior Clay Smith and junior Garrett Dick picked up the slack. Smith had his second-straight double-double (and third of the season) with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Dick scored 19 points – 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“You can’t say enough about a senior not wanting to play his last game,” said Tri-Central head coach Kyle Zahn. “Garrett was there when we needed him. For three quarters he orchestrated the offense and in the fourth quarter when we needed him to be a little more assertive, he went to work and carried us.”
Perhaps looking ahead to Lafayette Central Catholic in the sectional final, the Hornets were 24 of 60 from the field (40 percent) and turned the ball over 13 times.
Juniors Brandon Tonsoni and Miller, as usual, led Rossville’s scoring charge. Tonsoni finished with 26 points, nailing four 3-pointers, and Miller scored 19.
“Brandon and Austin finally had a game where they were both scoring,” Mosson said. “Austin especially got the ball to the basket and Brandon has some big threes.”
No other Hornet was in double figures as senior Michael Gregorash, Baker and junor Ethan Brenneman scored six points each.
Baker, fourth in the state in assists, tallied 11 in his final game as a Hornet.
For Rossville, there will be plenty of time to think about where things went wrong – especially at the end of regulation.
The Hornets were in control of the game, leading 60-56 with 45.2 seconds left in regulation following a Baker free throw. But Tri-Central responded with a Kolby Thomas 3-pointer to cut the lead to 60-59 with 32.7 seconds left.
Miller, a 78 percent free throw shooter, was fouled a second later but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 which could’ve given the Hornets a 3-point lead. Dick was then fouled on a 15-foot jumper with 12.5 seconds left in regulation.
Dick missed the first one but canned the second to tie the game. But the Trojans weren’t done in regulation. Baker threw the ball away with 6.4 seconds left, but Dick’s long 3-pointer missed, forcing overtime.
Dick made an immediate contribution in the extra session, driving the lane for a pair of lay-ups and a 64-60 lead 38 seconds in.
It ended up being 90 seconds of poor play – at the end of regulation and beginning of overtime – that came at the absolute worst time for the Hornets.
Despite that, Rossville battled back with Miller scoring the Hornets’ first bucket of OT with 1:25 left, a 3-pointer that cut Tri-Central’s lead to 66-65. Following a Colten Leininger missed free throw, Tonsoni got a clean look at a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left but couldn’t connect.
“I was proud of our effort,” Mosson said. “We didn’t do anything great but we battled back. I didn’t think we overlooked them any.”
Kolby Thomas was also in double figures for Tri-Central with 11 points.
At one point, Rossville led by eight points in the third quarter, 42-34, following a Tonsoni 3-pointer. Tri-Central later went on a 9-0 run early in the fourth to lead 51-48.
Tri-Central is the second team this season to avenge a previous loss to Rossville. The Hornets defeated Tri-Central 59-47 back on Jan. 11. Rossville had beaten Tri-County 72-40 in the Indiana Kitchen Basketball Classic but then lost to the Cavaliers 57-54 on Jan. 25.
Tri-Central 69, Rossville 66 (OT)
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Tri-Central 16 9 17 18 9 - 69
Rossville 10 22 14 14 6 - 66
Tri-Central (10-11) 69
Dick 7-16 3-4 19, D. Smith 4-8 0-0 9, Thomas 4-8 0-0 10, Howell 2-8 0-0 5, C. Smith 9-14 5-7 24, Trine 0-0 2-2 2, Leininger 0-3 0-3 0. Totals: 26-57 10-16 69.
Rossville (10-12) 66
Gregorash 3-6 0-0 6, Baker 2-3 2-4 6, Miller 7-19 2-3 19, Tonsoni 8-20 6-6 26, BRenneman 3-10 0-2 6, Myers 1-2 0-0 3, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Meyers 0-0 0-0 0, Howard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-60 10-18 66.
3-point field goals: RV 8-27 (Tonsoni 4-13, Miller 3-12, Myers 1-2), TC 7-21 (Dick 2-7, D. Smith 1-4, Thomas 2-4, Howell 1-4, C. Smith 1-1, Leininger 0-1). Rebounds: RV 37 (Brenneman 11), TC 39 (C. Smith 11). Assists: RV 15 (Baker 11), TC 10 (Dick, Thomas 3). Steals: RV 5 (Baker 4), TC 6 (Dick 3). Blocks: RV 0, TC 3 (3 with 1). Turnovers: RV 14, TC 13. Fouled out: RV (Baker), TC (Thomas)
Rossville junior Brandon Tonsoni gets some air to try and block the shot of Tri-Central’s Cody Howell in Tuesday’s Class A Sectional 54 quarterfinal.
Rossville senior point guard James Baker (right) finished with six points and 11 assists in the Hornets’ 69-66 overtime loss to Tri-Central in Tuesday night’s Class A Sectional 54 quarterfinal.