BY JIMMY HARRIS firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — The Salt Fork boys basketball team fought to the wire against St. Anne in Tuesday’s IHSA Class 1A sectional played at Mary Miller Gymnasium on the campus of Danville Area Community College but lost a heartbreaker 53-52.
Salt Fork had the ball with 9.5 seconds left on the right sideline and ran a play where Noah Darr gets the ball from Taylor Kirby and drove to the left side of the basket and gets fouled going to the rim with 1.5 seconds left.
Darr made the first one before the Cardinals called a timeout to ice the shooter. The Cardinals’ plan paid off as Darr’s second free throw hit the back iron and the Cardinals knocked it out of Max Stutsman’s hand and out of bounds Salt Fork ball with 0.3 seconds left on the clock. The Storm with new life calls timeout to set up an out of bounds play.
“We knew St. Anne was going to be on Max (Stutsman), so we tried a miss direction play and get the ball to Ross (Learnard) on the lob,” Salt Fork coach Andrew Johnson said.
The play went as designed but the pass was too high and hard for Learnard to control and the Cardinals escaped.
“I am so proud of this team they left their heart and effort on the floor, what a great group of kids we have and it just was not the way we wanted it to end,” Johnson said.
As the game started, the Cardinals were tough early and led 15-8 with 2:35 left in the first quarter. Salt Fork was in a hole but with a strong effort and a gritty determination, the Storm fought back and was only down three at the end of one quarter 17-14.
The second quarter started as the first quarter did with the Cardinals stretching their defense into 1-3-1 from man to man to squeeze Stutsman. Salt Fork took control of the last part of the quarter as they went on an 8-0 run in the last 3:49 of the second quarter to get back in the game.
As the second quarter was winding down, Salt Fork’s Ross Learnard hit two big 3’s in the last 28 seconds of the quarter, and the second one as the buzzer sounded to draw within 27-26 going into the locker room with some momentum.
As the third quarter started, the Cardinals concentrated on surrounding Stutsman and wanted the Salt Fork guards to hit shots from the outside. The Storm guards responded with hitting open looks and driving to the basket to score points and keep the game close as the third quarter wound down.
“I thought St. Anne did a nice job of trying to take Stutsman out of the game,” Johnson said. “We are not a one man show and I thought the rest of the team picked up their game to help Max out.”
As the Storm continue to battle they took a lead in the fourth quarter and push that lead up to five points at one point with a big 3 from Cole Taylor. The Cardinals took a timeout and put on a full court press that bothered the Storm and forced them into three quick turnovers which resulted in six points.
From that point on, the game was a seesaw battle in the 4th quarter. With 24 seconds left in the game and the game tied at 51, the Cardinal from a timeout ran an out of bounds play and one of the players got loose underneath the basket and got a layup to push the score to 53-51. The Storm pushed the ball up the right sideline and it was deflected out of bounds by a Cardinal player with 9.5 seconds left.
In game 1, the Arthur-Lovington Knights took on the St. Thomas More Sabers in an exciting game that took an extra four minutes to decide. The Knights had a chance at the end of regulation to win the game and ran a play for their best player Tyler Schuring (game-high 26 points) who got to the top of key and shot a three falling to his left and it rimmed out, leaving the game tied at 48-48.
The Sabers had new life and outscored the Knights in overtime 13-4 for a 61-52 victory. The Knights started out quickly and shot well in the first four minutes of game but the Sabers fought back to only be down one at half 24-23. In the second half, it was a seesaw battle as the Sabers finally gained control in the overtime period.
St. Thomas More moves on to the sectional championship game Friday night to play St. Anne at 7 p.m.