McAuley Catholic battled back from a 10-point deficit to tie the game up late in the fourth quarter only to see Pierce City rewarded with a foul call on a 50-50 ball that ultimately led to the go-ahead free throw being made with .3 seconds remaining in a 32-31 win on Tuesday.
“They have shown me a lot in the last week,” McAuley coach Tony Witt said of his team’s ability to fight back from a deficit. “That is something we didn’t have this summer, and I was worried about it. But, there is no quit in them. We just have to do a better job of not putting ourselves in these positions to lose games. We could have won the game in the fourth quarter, sure, but the first, second and third quarter is what lost it for us. That and we missed 10 free throws, so there is the game right there.”
The Eagles led 31-21 two minutes into the fourth quarter before the Warriors scored the next 10 points over a span of five minutes to tie the game at 31-all with a minute to play. Declan Berkstresser started the run with a pair of makes from the charity stripe before Noah Black scored on a drive to the hoop to make the score 31-25. A free throw from Kable Reichardt and a baseline jumper from Michael Parrigon trimmed the lead to three with 2:30 left. Parrigon added another charity before Jacob Bracich scored inside the paint at the one-minute mark to tie the game.
After a miss from each team, Pierce City took the ball out just past midcourt with 1.1 seconds left before turning it over on an errant pass that ended up in the rafters, giving the ball to McAuley with the same time remaining.
McAuley’s inbounds pass went to the top of the key where the Warriors’ Jeffery Horinek and Eagles’ Clayton O’Hara both went up for the ball simultaneously. A whistle blew, with an offensive foul called on Horinek, sending O’Hara to the line with .3 left in regulation. O’Hara made the front end of a one-and-one to send Pierce City to the win.
“It’s tough when there is a 50-50 ball and there could be a foul called either way and the game comes down to one person making the decision, not the 10 players on the floor,” Witt said. “We are going to watch some film and we are going to figure out that in certain situations you have to keep a cool head and understand the big picture.”
Following a slow-moving first period that saw Black hit a stepback 3-pointer at the horn to tie it at 7-7, Pierce City was able to get an advantage after every quarter change thanks to being the aggressor out of each break.
“It’s almost like they are comfortable playing from behind,” Witt said of his team falling behind every quarter change. “That is not what successful teams do. We have got to do a better job every quarter and win the first two minutes, whether that is at the free-throw line or on the defensive end. We can’t just sit back and be passive for the first two minutes and then start playing.”
In the second quarter, the Eagles used a 6-0 run off consecutive 3-pointers from Ashton Medlin to build a 13-7 advantage before the Warriors closed the first half on a 6-0 run highlighted by a Black score off the drive and a 3-ball from Reichardt in the corner off the assist from Joe Staton to tie the game at 13s by halftime.
“It was big for us because even though we didn’t play well in the first two quarters, we are still tied going into halftime,” Witt said of his team’s run to close the second quarter. “
Opening the second half, Pierce City used back-to-back three-point plays from Garrett Jespersen and Emmit Price and a corner 3-ball from Medlin for a 9-0 run to push the lead to 22-13.
And again, the Warriors rallied, going on a 7-2 run to trim the lead to four points. Horinek grabbed an offensive rebound for a putback score to kick off the run before Bracich followed suit with an offensive board and putback to make the score 22-17. After a basket off the drive by Pierce City’s Zane Clayton, a free throw from Bracich and a layup by Reichardt trimmed the lead to 24-20.
The Eagles pushed the lead back with another 3-ball from Medlin while taking a 27-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
Medlin knocked down five 3-pointers to lead the Eagles with 15 points, while Price had seven and Jespersen five.
Reichardt and Black each had seven points to lead McAuley in scoring, while Bracich had five. Berkstresser and Parrigon each had three.
McAuley hosts Sarcoxie on Dec. 10.