A go-ahead layup by senior guard Morgan Booher with only seven seconds remaining had Greenwood Christian Academy on the doorstep of advancing to the IHSAA Class A boys basketball semistate.
But a questionable foul with only eight-tenths of a second left sent Clay City junior Trevor Singer to the line, where he converted two free throws to lead the Eels to a 66-65 come-from-behind victory at Martinsville High School on Saturday night.
Outside the Cougars’ locker room, ninth-year coach Jamie Satre could only ponder what might have been.
“This one really stings to think about how heartbreaking a loss this really is,” Satre said. “That was a really tough call at the end there, but hats off to Clay City. They played a good game, and they did what they needed to be done to win.”
Meanwhile, Clay City coach Vance Edmundson had a different perspective on the ending.
“It was the right call,” Edmundson said. “If it’s a foul in the first second of the game, it’s a foul in the last second of the game.
“You’ve got to give the official credit for making the right call.”
Greenwood Christian led at the end of each quarter, including a 46-36 advantage at the end of the third.
But the Eels went on a 9-1 run in the first two minutes of the final period to slice the Cougars’ lead to 47-45.
Junior guard Evan Rogers, who finished with 20 points including, 11 of 12 free throws, gave Clay City its first lead of the game on a 3-point play with 3:56 remaining.
Field goals and two free throws by Booher and Cougars senior forward Jacob Stephenson put Greenwood Christian back on top 57-54, only to see Clay City rally again.
Down by one with 1:39 remaining, Singer, who finished with a team-high 23 points, drove the lane for a go-ahead layup and on the next possession added two free throws to put the Eels in front 62-59.
Cougars’ senior Lucas Peters, who finished with a game-high 22 points, got to the line and converted two free throws to reduce Clay City’s lead to one point at 62-61.
Eels sophomore guard Noah Denker hit a pair of free throws to put Clay City up 64-61, and Booher followed with two free throw with 25 seconds remaining to trim the gap to 64-63.
Following a defensive stop by Greenwood Christian, Booher drove past three defenders and made a scoop layup to put the Cougars up by one with seven seconds left.
Clay City immediately called time out. Coming out of the time out, the Eels’ Hunter Wolfe attempted a layup that rolled off the rim, sending players from both teams scrambling for the rebound.
Greenwood Christian was called for a foul during the scrum. After officials gathered to discuss the call, it was upheld. Singer went to the line and made both free throws.
A mid-court desperation shot by Peters bounced off the backboard to end the game.
Disheartened by the loss, Peters, with tears in his eyes, summed up the season.
“I know this is what God wanted for me. All these guys are my brothers and they got my back,” Peters said. “Everyone loves each other and no one blames each other.
“You learn that no matter what, winning or losing, at the end it’s just a game.”
With the win, Clay City (20-6) advances to its first semistate since 1974. It plays top-ranked Barr-Reeve (25-1) in a Saturday semifinal.
For Greenwood Christian (19-6), Stephenson had 16 points, including 10 of 12 free throws, and 13 rebounds while senior center Gunnar Rastenburg pulled down a game-high 15 boards to go with five points.
The Cougars outrebounded the Eels 35-14.
Stephenson and senior forward Tad Thompson, who tallied 10 points, fouled out late in the game.
The Cougars, who had never won a sectional game since joining the IHSAA in 2006-07, put together a string of four wins in this year’s state tournament, including a sectional-title-clinching victory against Waldron.
“The guys gave it their all. They left it all on the floor,” Satre said. “They can’t be ashamed with how they played. They got after it from the get-go all the way to the end. It’s just tough to lose like that.”
Greenwood Christian reached the regional championship game by defeating Metropolitan 65-62 in the Saturday morning semifinal, while Clay City routed Oldenburg Academy 66-46.
With the loss of six seniors, including all five starters, the Cougars will have a stiff challenge in front of them.
But Satre said the kind of state tournament experience his backups witnessed will pay dividends next season.
“To get over hump after hump after hump is huge in moving our program forward,” Satre said.
“We’re trying to teach them how to be better men. We’re trying to prepare them for life.”