KETTERING — Many times it comes down to one play during the tournament.
And one thing stays consistent: The successful team is going to be elated, while the other squad walks away devastated.
In Friday’s Division IV boys regional championship basketball game at Trent Arena at Kettering Fairmont, Troy Christian made the last big play of the game en route to a hard-fought 51-49 victory over Delphos St. John’s.
With the game tied at 49-49 and time winding down, Troy Christian’s Grant Zawadzki got a pass, dribbled and pulled up for a 3-pointer at the top of the key. St. John’s Andy Grothouse slid over to defend Zawadzki and was whistled for a foul, sending Zawadzki to the free throw line for three shots.
The sophomore guard made 2-of-3 from the stripe, giving the Eagles the 2-point lead. Zawadzki ended the game with 12 points.
Now it was time for St. John’s to draw up a big play of its own.
With three seconds left, the Blue Jays quickly worked the ball from one end of the court to the other. Curtis Geise — St. John’s leading scorer — took a couple dribbles and then shot a 22-footer that rimmed out at the buzzer, ending the Blue Jays’ season.
“We drew up a play that we had called on in practice for game situations and we executed pretty darn well. But the shot just didn’t go in,” St. John’s coach Aaron Elwer said.
Geise and Ryan Buescher led St. John’s (20-6) with 14 points each, while Grothouse added nine points for the Blue Jays. Buescher also pulled down 12 rebounds.
Throughout the game, both teams had their fair share of runs.
However, at the 4:50 mark of the third quarter, St. John’s looked to be taking control of the game as the Blue Jays pulled out to a 32-22 lead.
However, Troy Christian, behind the shooting of Nathan Kirkpatrick (15 points), closed the quarter on a 16-7 run to cut the deficit to 39-38 by the third stop. The Eagles continued their run into the fourth quarter as they jumped out to a 46-40 lead with five minutes left to play in the game.
“Any time you lose and with what’s on the line tonight, it’s a tough loss,” Elwer said. “It’s a tough loss because of the 14 guys in there. …With what they’ve been able to accomplish throughout this season, it’s unfortunate because we were one step closer to the ultimate goal. It’s a tough locker room right now.”
Troy Christian got out quickly to begin the game, claiming a 7-2 lead less than two minutes into the first period.
However, St. John’s battled back and took the lead, 13-12, by the end of the first quarter. Geise and Grothouse both hit 3-pointers to lead the way. St. John’s was able to go into the break with a 25-22 lead.
“You don’t get to this point and give up and throw in the towel. …And that was kind of our explanation to the guys,” Elwer said. “We had great energy and we were able to extend the lead, but it was early in the third quarter and we had a lot of time to play. But, give credit when credit is due — to not throw the towel in and finish the way they did.”
Elwer did not dispute the foul that was called toward the end of the game.
“I think he got him on the arm. It was a good call,” he said.
Elwer pointed to the guard play of Troy Christian as a factor to his team’s slow start.
“They’re really guard-oriented,” Elwer said. “I think we took a little bit to get used to their speed. But once we did, we were good with that. So, it was a slow start, but our guys got back into the swing of things. I thought we did a good job of contesting from that point out.”
For the game, St. John’s shot 39 percent from the field. Troy Christian (26-2) shot 43 percent from the floor.
Troy Christian’s Christian Salazar scored 14 points. Troy Christian coach Ray Zawadzki showed St. John’s a great deal of respect.
“That’s been our battle cry all year long. …And that’s to ‘Never give up’. Give credit to our kids — they stepped up and made some plays. But I’ll tell you this; I did not want to play Delphos St. John’s, coming into this game. I know how tough they are and I have a lot of respect for the MAC.”
For St. John’s, it’s the end of the road for four seniors.
“We not only lose four seniors, but lose four good program guys. They’ve been really good lead examples for our younger guys,” Elwer said.
NOTE: Coming into this season, Troy Christian was 6-13 in all previous tournament games in school history. This postseason, the Eagles have matched their tournament wins total.