DAYTON — The Tongue River Eagles (6-16) played what was undoubtedly the most tense game of the season Saturday afternoon against Sundance (10-11) and lost it on the free throw line.
A foul-laden match sent both teams to the line throughout the second half and cost the Eagles some key starting players who saw early foul trouble.
The game was nerve-racking for all involved and came down to two points as Sundance took it in the final seconds 60-62.
Though the game was continually close, the Eagles held onto a lead through the majority of the game. Tongue River came out of the first quarter down by two, then they headed into the half up by two and maintained the leading position until almost the very end.
The Eagles were able to get a larger lead in the third, finishing 37-30 over Sundance, but the fourth quarter changed everything.
With less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter the Eagles achieved their biggest lead of the game, 45-37. Both teams already had six team fouls apiece so the game entered a bonus situation where free throws were automatically granted with every foul. The fouls kept coming and players, including Matthew Sharp, started fouling out.
With 1:26 left in the game, Sundance stole the lead for the first time since the first quarter by sinking two free throws. The score: 56-57, 10 team fouls each. The Eagles took a shot, and made it, and also drew a foul. Two shots — one swish, one miss, making the score 59-57.
With 42.4 seconds left in game play, Sundance tied it up with a basket, 59 all. But along with the basket came the all too familiar whistle and the ref threw his fist in the air indicating another foul. Two shots — one hit, one miss. Score: 59-60.
The next 40 seconds seemed to last an hour and were full of many missed opportunities on both ends of the court. Tongue River rebounded a missed free throw and ran the ball up court but it slipped loose and Sundance recovered the turnover.
A couple missed free throws for each were followed by a notable missed basket by the Eagles which was rebounded by Sundance and turned into what would become the game winning shot were crammed into less than a minute of play. A timeout with one second left on the clock and a full court Hail Mary toss were not enough to do it and the boys saw a heartbreaking two-point loss.
“My kids work hard enough to win,” head coach Robert Griffin said. “and the fact of the matter is it came down to coaching and I let them down.”
The boys will now face Wright tonight in the challenge game in a final push for the playoffs.
“We’ve got to decide we’re going to win,” Griffin said. “We’ve beat Wright twice this season, we’ve just got to figure out how to overcome failure and the word is determination. We get to determine who we are and how we play this game.”
The game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. tonight and there will be $5 admission charged.
Lady Eagles stay unbeaten
DAYTON —The No.1-ranked Lady Eagles (20-2) won their match with the No. 5-ranked Sundance (15-6) on Saturday.
“I told the kids to go out on a win,” head coach Diane Moser said. “It’s been a long time since we had a home game and it was a nice home victory end for the senior class.”
Tongue River was led by Sarah Rawlings with 17 points, Amanda Buller with 14 and Kylee Knobloch contributing 10 to the 63-29 victory.
The Lady Eagles lead more than doubled in nearly every quarter and the girls dominated play throughout.
Tongue River will head to regionals in Cheyenne as the No.1 seed on Thursday.
“Our regional tournament is going to be very competitive,” Moser said. “There are probably six teams at regionals that could make it to state. So we’re really going to have to play well.”
Saturday’s games were played in honor of the graduating seniors, and Moser said it was their game all around and their win.
“I’m going to miss that group. They’ve been key members of our team for quite a while now,” she added.