ALEDO -- Through three quarters Friday, it looked as if the Mercer County boys' basketball team would get to play for a championship on its home court.|
Taking on top-seeded Wethersfield in the semifinals of the Lincoln Trail Conference tournament, the fourth-seeded Golden Eagles were the dominant force for the majority of those three periods. They led by as many as 17 points in the first half, by 16 in the third quarter, and a late 3-pointer by Tyson Nylin had the Eagles up eight with just eight minutes to play.
However, the Flying Geese took flight in the fourth quarter. Cashing in on 10 Mercer County turnovers and a suddenly tentative offensive attack in that frame, Wethersfield overtook the Eagles when Tyler Litton buried a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to play as the Geese held on for a 72-69 victory.
"They swung the ball over to me, and I didn't know whether to drive or to pass,'' said Litton, who netted 13 points to go with five steals. "When I shot it, it felt good coming off my hands. I just had a good feeling about it.''
Earning their 20th win in 23 games -- the first time since 2006 Wethersfield has won 20 or more games -- the Flying Geese hope to continue that good feeling tonight when they take on No. 2 Galva (18-3) in the 7 p.m. championship game. The Wildcats advanced with a 60-45 win over third-seeded Stark County in Friday's second semifinal.
"I tell you what, these kids have no quit in 'em,'' said Wethersfield coach Jeff Parsons, who also got a game-high 26 points from junior standout Trevor Lay. "When we were down 43-26 in the second quarter, I called a timeout and said, `It's up to you guys, what do you want to do?' Fold, or do like we did when we were down 21 against Peru St. Bede -- come back and take the lead.
"I looked in their eyes, and I never thought we'd lose. When it was 69-66 (following a Litton three-point play with 1:17 remaining), Kegan Jacobson says, `Guys, this is our game to win,' and they believed it.''
Mercer County (13-9) had a chance to force overtime when the ball found its way into Nylin's hands. However, he was jostled as he took his last 3-point attempt, but nothing was called as the shot came up short. That dropped the Golden Eagles into today's 5:30 p.m. third-place contest against the Rebels (9-13).
"I thought he got hit hard on that last shot,'' said a frustrated Eagles' coach Brian Hutton. "The thing that amazes me sometimes about officials is that they say they want to let the kids decide the game, but not making a call on something like that, they end up deciding it. At the same time, if we take better care of the ball, it doesn't come down to that.
"The thing that's disappointing is that during basketball season, you can have few opportunities to play for titles. We thought we had it taken care of here, but Wethersfield cranked up its press, and that's what we've struggled with all year.''
Tanner Matlick led the hosts with 16 points and nine rebounds, with Nylin adding 13 to go with four steals and Brandon Butcher chipping in 12 points off the bench. Javonte Hollowell led the Geese reserve corps with 12 points and seven boards.
Ridgewood 51, Annawan 44: In the losers' bracket semifinals, the Ridgewood Spartans (13-10) advanced to today's 4 p.m. consolation finals by fending off a furious Annawan rally. With James Brooks draining five treys en route to a team-high 16 points, Ridgewood led 45-20 entering the fourth quarter. However, the Braves (9-17) rallied behind the duo of Tony Gripp (17 points) and Michael Smith (10), who combined for 14 fourth-quarter points.
The Spartans will take on ROWVA (9-13), a 46-42 winner over Biggsville West Central behind a 25-point performance from Kyle Woodside.
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