Bowsher’s best basketball season in school history will continue to Saturday’s Division I boys district final, but the Rebels didn’t make it by much.
Their 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter dwindled to just three in the closing seconds, and they had survive a potential game-tying 3-point try by Central Catholic with 2 seconds remaining to take a 63-60 victory in Thursday night’s district semifinals at Savage Arena.
“I was very nervous, no doubt,” Bowsher coach Joe Guerrero said. “We’re usually good at the end of games, and that’s something we have to work on and get better.
“We have a senior-dominated team and our guys just knew that we were not going to lose this game. We didn’t play real good at the end but we did enough to hold on.”
Bowsher (23-2), the eighth-ranked City League champions, will meet St. John’s Jesuit (18-6) for the district championship here Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The Titans advanced by pulling away late and taking a 60-45 victory over Northern Lakes League co-champion Springfield in Thursday’s second semifinal Thursday at Savage Arena.
Bowsher was led by district player of the year Nate Allen’s 22 points, Aundre Kizer had 19 points, and Cameron White and Dajuan King added nine apiece.
“It was nerve-racking,” Allen said of the final seconds, “but we’re all seniors and we had to pull through. We need to execute better and knock down free throws at the end of the game.
“We started slowing the ball down in the fourth quarter. We’ve got to keep going, and make layups and free throws. This is great. We’re doing everything we can do to make it down to Columbus. We’ll do whatever it takes. We just want to win.”
Bowsher’s victory total is the highest in school history, and their City championship was also a first this season.
In a back-and-forth first half that saw nine lead changes, the Rebels went to halftime ahead 31-27.
They seized control of the game with an 8-0 run to start the third quarter, when Allen opened with a three-point play, King nailed a 3-pointer, and Kizer followed with a fast-break dunk for a 39-27 lead just 1:26 into the period.
When Kizer hit a 3-pointer and Allen scored on a layup with 3 minutes left in the third, Bowsher had its largest lead at 51-36.
A layup by Marcus Winters (16 points) pulled the Irish within 63-56 with 42 seconds left, White missed the front end of a bonus chance at the line, and two free throws from Jermiah Braswell (11 points) made it 63-58 with 23.4 seconds to go.
The Irish then got a steal, and Grier scored on a putback with 14.4 seconds remaining. After Bowsher’s Jason Sandridge missed the front end of another bonus chance, Central rebounded and set up a would-be tying 3-pointer, only to see Winters’ shot rim out with two seconds left.
“About the midpoint of the third quarter we got real soft defensively and they just got rhythm,” Central coach Jim Welling said. “They’re a rhythm basketball team, and they went on those four, six, or eight-point runs. We looked like we were moving in mud.
“But I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting back in those last five minutes. They showed a lot of heart to fight back at the end. It just wasn’t enough today.”
In the second semifinal, St. John’s hit eight of its nine fourth-quarter shots, using a 19-11 final period to pull away.
“We had chances earlier on to pull away when we got up eight or nine, and we would just do some crazy things at both ends of the floor,” Titans coach Ed Heintschel said. “To [Springfield’s] credit, they made plays. But, at the end, we did finish strong.”
The Titans (18-6) were led by sophomore guard Gabe Kynard and senior guard Anthony Glover, who each had 14 points. Parker Ernsthausen added nine points and nine rebounds for St. John’s.
All 14 of Glover’s points came in the second half.
Springfield (16-6), which was plagued by early foul trouble with their inside players — 6-8 forwards Demajeo Wiggins and Chad Roy — managed to hang around with St. John’s until the final quarter.
The Northern Lakes League co-champions were paced by 14 points from Manny Durden and 12 from Mason Durden.
The game was tied at 11 after one quarter, and the Titans took a 26-23 lead to halftime.
St. John’s broke out to leads of nine points twice in the third quarter, only to allow the Blue Devils to get back with 38-34 on Manny Durden’s steal and dunk with 1:05 left in the third.
But the Titans got a 3-pointer from Kaleb Vaughn to close the quarter up 41-34, and were ahead 48-43 when they finally ran away from Springfield with a game-closing 12-2 surge.
“For the most part we were our own worst enemy,” Springfield coach Stan Joplin said. “We fouled too much, we didn’t keep them off the boards, and we gave them layups at the other end.”