January 09, 2013After sloshing their way through deep mud in the first three quarters of the PSC Holiday Classic opener against host Heritage Hills on Dec. 27, the Crawford County Wolfpack rallied in the fourth quarter to escape with a 57-53 win. The victory came down to a few plays and some important free throws in the last two minutes.
"These guys showed an awful lot of guts and an awful lot of resilience to come back and win after taking some really hard punches," Crawford County coach Mike Brown said. "I'm really proud of them for that."
Crawford County had a horrendous first quarter, hitting just one of its first eight shots, while Heritage Hills exploded to a 12-2 lead. The Wolfpack finally made some headway later in the period, pulling to within three, 16-13, by its close.
Crawford County’s Brayden Barron puts his eye on the basket for two free throws to give the Wolfpack a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter of their 57-53 win over Heritage Hills in the opener of the PSC Holiday Classic. Photo by Wade Bell
Crawford County briefly got back on top when Johnny Schwartz scored inside following a Jordan Nickelson three-ball. The lead changed hands twice more before halftime, but Heritage Hills finished with a 7-3 burst to lead 30-25 at the break.
Brown said his halftime talk to his team not only was about making some offensive adjustments but also last year's championship game where the Wolfpack came out on top.
"We made a couple of adjustments on our zone to try to get the ball inside more, get it down on the baseline," he said. "We never did end up getting in there for shots, but we did get shots on the top because of it. We talked about our press a little bit. We played them last year in the championship and it was a game of runs, and we were lucky to get the last one. We've got to hope we can hang around and get the last one.
"So, if they get up, we get up, and it's still not going to be over if we get back ahead. It's not going to be over. So, we just have to play the thing out and see what happens. Our kids really believe the game's not over till it's over. That's a great thing, coaching-wise, to have because you know they're going to play to the end."
Crawford County still struggled in the third period, hitting just one of its first nine shots, while the Patriots hit five of eight to take a 40-27 lead.
Heritage Hills held its double-digit lead through the rest of the quarter and was ahead 47-36 heading into the final eight minutes.
The poles shifted in the fourth quarter, and it was the Wolfpack who benefited. Crawford County began the period hitting three of its first five shots to close the gap to seven.
The Patriots pushed the lead back to nine with their only two field goals of the period. However, Ranger Caffrey then buried a three-ball to launch a 12-0 run for a 54-53 Crawford County edge.
In the middle of the run, Brown was called for a technical foul for arguing a call, but that only seemed to motivate his team that much more.
"I didn't get it for that reason, because it was late in the game and I don't ever want to get one then," he said. "To our kids' credit, it did get them fired up a little bit. It got us moving when we were tired. We were really wore out there for a while."
Devon Merder missed both free throws, however, and later he missed two more following a Schwartz basket. The Patriots also turned the ball over three times as Crawford County senior Brayden Barron pushed the issue on defense.
With less than 30 seconds to go, Heritage Hills used up two fouls it had to give. With 24.8 seconds to go, Gavin Schaefer fouled Barron, who hit both free throws for a 56-53 Crawford County advantage.
The Patriots misfired twice from behind the arc and then fouled Nickelson, who hit one of two free throws to seal the deal, as the Wolfpack won 57-53.
"We hung in there and just kept telling them, 'We're going to get another run, and, when we get our run, it may be the final one,' " said Brown, whose team outscored the Patriots 21-6 in the fourth quarter. "It just worked out we got a few deflections there and we got a few shots that finally dropped and got in the bonus where we could hit some free throws, and it kind of came together at the right time."
Nickelson led Crawford County with 15 points, and Schwartz followed with 14. The Wolfpack connected on 22 of 61 attempts from the field (36 percent) but seven of eight from the stripe. Crawford County had just nine turnovers.
Brown praised Barron, a senior, for his play at the end, when it counted, after he struggled through the first half.
"He made three or four huge plays," the Crawford County coach said. "He got that flick there at the end. It takes a man to come into a game and have things not go his way but keep playing and waiting on it to come your way and you keep attacking the basket. When we went to a trap, it helps Brayden because he likes to get out and run and jump around. He got his hands on some balls that really helped us some. And then he hit two huge free throws."
Schaefer and Spenser Minto led Heritage Hills with 17 points each. The Patriots shot better from the field, canning 21 of 48 attempts (44 percent), but only two of seven in the fourth period. They also connected on just seven of 15 free throws. Heritage Hills committed 17 turnovers, including seven in the final quarter.
"We're going to run and get enough possessions that, over the course of a game, we hope we get our runs, too," Brown said. "We would rather have the last one."