CALDWELL — For 30 minutes during Thursday’s 1A Division I state tournament quarterfinal game, the Liberty Charter boys basketball team was able to find the right baskets at the right time.
The final two minutes, however told a different story, as the Patriots fell to Grace 48-46, losing in the first round of the state tournament for the third straight year.
Liberty Charter was outscored 9-1 down the stretch, after leading 45-39 with less than two minutes to go in the game.
“It was difficult,” Liberty Charter coach Seth Stallcop said. We had a two possession lead with two minutes to go. … They made plays at the end of the game. They took advantage of our turnovers and made us pay, and unfortunately we’re paying with a loss.”
The Grizzlies broke a 46-46 tie after Talon Nance grabbed a rebound off a missed Liberty Charter shot with 20 seconds to go in the game, drove to the top of the key under the Patriots basket, then dished the ball off to Matthew Gilbert, who put in the go-ahead layup with 11 seconds left.
That gave Grace its first lead since Trevor Fowler hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first-half to give Liberty Charter an 18-16 lead going into halftime, the Patriots’ first lead of the game.
“We’ve had a lot of close games this season,” said Fowler, who tied Michael Wachsmuth with a team-high 15 points. “We’re used to the pressure, we just made some mental mistakes and they capitalized on it.”
Liberty Charter shot 8 of 19 from behind the 3-points line with Fowler sinking five of them. The Patriots’ last 3-pointer came with 2:10 left in the game, from Wachsmuth, to give Liberty Charter a 45-39 lead.
From there, the Patriots struggled to hold on to the ball and made just 1 of 3 free throw attempts down the stretch. Grace tied the game up when Payton Lloyd made a basket and free throw, then took the lead on its next possession.
With 11 seconds left, Wachsmuth took the ball down the court to the bottom of the key and dished it off to Fowler, who was able to get in front of the Grace defender and get off the shot with under five seconds on the clock. The ball bounced off the rim and fell no good.
“I had a good look,” Fowler said about the shot. “I had a pretty good night, I hit some, so I thought it was going in. It just rimmed out. That’s how the game goes sometimes.
Liberty Charter was able to get the offensive rebound, but a desperation put-back at the buzzer came nowhere near the basket.
Liberty Charter gets back on the court today when it faces Raft River in the consolation semifinals at 1:15 p.m. The Patriots will be looking to finish the season with two straight wins and take home the first state tournament trophy in program history.
“It’s always tough after a loss,” said Stallcop, who has seen his team make it to Saturday three times in the last five years, but not win that final game. “We expect them to be resilient. We just want to come out (today), not really thinking about trophies. We just want to come out (today) and whoever we play, we want to play really well.”