Before this season, it had been at least 30 years since the Sale Creek boys' basketball team had played in a district final. Now the Panthers are a win away from a region championship.
The District 6-A champions held on for a 63-60 victory over 5-A runner-up Arts & Sciences in the Region 3-A semifinals Tuesday night at CSAS.
The Panthers will face District 5 champion Boyd-Buchanan, a 66-51 winner over Copper Basin on Tuesday, in the championship game Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
"This is huge," Sale Creek coach David Helton said. "I'm so proud of the guys and how hard they've worked. It's great for the community, and it's great for the school. There's just a lot of excitement at Sale Creek right now. Our fan support is unbelievable."
The Panthers took a 32-27 lead into halftime against CSAS, and extended their margin to nine in the opening minutes of the third period. The Patriots took advantage of Sale Creek turnovers to rally to tie the score at 42 on a Darius Graves' three-point play with 1:14 left in the period, and a Joshua Carter 3-pointer to open the fourth put CSAS on top.
Another 3 from Shunn Moorer gave Arts & Sciences a 52-48 advantage and the momentum with 5:21 remaining, but Sale Creek responded, holding the Patriots scoreless over the next three minutes.
"We've had a very tough schedule, and we've played a lot of close games against very good competition," Helton said. "They know that I want them to just play through things. Basketball is a game of runs, of ups and downs, and they don't get too high or too low. They just play through it. In the third quarter, we turned the ball over four or five times down the floor, but we just kept playing. We've developed that mentality that we're never out of it."
A series of CSAS turnovers helped Sale Creek regain the lead at 53-52 on Spencer Hodge's three-point play, but the Panthers fell behind again after four Patriots free throws. Another three-point play, this time from Chase Janow, put Sale Creek ahead 58-57 with 1:10 remaining, and the Panthers connected from the line to extend it to 61-57 with under 30 seconds to play.
Brandon Houston sank a huge 3 for Arts & Sciences with 15.4 seconds on the clock to get his team within 61-60, and the Patriots managed to foul just a second later. Sale Creek then hit the first shot but missed the second to leave it a one-possession game in the final seconds.
But with two starters on the bench with five fouls, the Patriots offense couldn't finish an open look that would have tied the game in the final seconds, and Janow made one more free throw to secure the historic 63-60 win for Sale Creek.
"There's a certain chemistry with these guys," Helton said. "They believe in each other; they trust in each other. We've got Chase, who is really a special player, but he's not the only thing we have. We have several players who complement him. The guys are really learning how to play hard, and how to play together. It's been coming. The last few years we've been building toward this."
Janow and Hodge finished with 20 points apiece for Sale Creek (18-9), while Carter led all scorers with 21 points and Shunn Moorer followed with 17 for CSAS, which ended its season at 20-9.
In the second semifinal, District 5 champion Boyd-Buchanan opened its game against Copper Basin on a 10-0 run, and extended it to 15-4 by the end of the first. The Cougars had trimmed their deficit to 26-16 in the final seconds of the second quarter, but the Bucs managed another basket before the buzzer, then cruised to a 47-34 lead at the end of the third.
QD Cox led the Bucs with 14 points, while Justus McMillan followed with 13 and Zach Jenkins added 11. Copper Basin’s Karson Swinehart led all scorers with 17, followed by 11 from Tyler Limburg and 10 from Tanner Wilcox.
Boyd-Buchanan will be trying for a second straight region title when it takes on Sale Creek on Wednesday. The Bucs held on for a 48-45 victory when the teams met at Sale Creek on Dec. 3
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Region 3-A Boys' Semifinals
SALE CREEK 63, ARTS & SCIENCES 60
CSAS 13 14 17 16 -- 60
Sale Creek 14 18 14 15 -- 63
CSAS (60) -- Joshua Carter 21, Shunn Moorer 17, Hamilton 5, Brown 2, Graves 7, Ratliff, Houston 5, Moore, Lansden 3.
Sale Creek (63) -- Burton 2, Abbott 6, Jackson, Mobley 4, Huffman, Turner 5, Chase Janow 20, Spencer Hodge 20, Daniel 6.
3-point goals: CSAS 6 (Carter 3, Moorer 2, Houston); Sale Creek 3 (Abbott, Turner, Janow).
BOYD-BUCHANAN 66, COPPER BASIN 51
Copper Basin 4 12 18 17 -- 51
Boyd-Buchanan 15 13 19 19 -- 66
Copper Basin (51) -- Cooper 5, Goode 6, Karson Swinehart 17, Tanner Wilcox 10, Tyler Limburg 11, Jones 2, Trentham.
Boyd-Buchanan (66) -- Allen 2, Justus McMillan 13, QD Cox 14, A. Walker 9, Zach Jenkins 11, Arendale 5, Nason 8, Evans, Hodge, Macon 4, R. Walker.
3-point goals: Copper Basin 4 (Swinehart 2, Cooper, Wilcox); Boyd-Buchanan 5 (McMillan 2, Cox 2, A. Walker).
Arts & Sciences vs Van Buren County, 6 p.m.
Boyd-Buchanan vs. Sale Creek, 7:30 p.m.