With 2:34 left on the clock in Saturday’s Mid-State League-Buckeye Division game, Amanda-Clearcreek had an eight-point lead and seemed to be in control. Just 66 seconds later the lead was down to one.
Fairfield Union (2-5, 1-3) went into a trapping, full-court press that forced three consecutive Aces’ turnovers, which lead to seven straight points. Amanda-Clearcreek (5-2, 3-1) hit three free throws down the stretch — their only points during the final three minutes of the game — to hold on for the 52-48 victory.
“Our kids are re-learning how to battle and play with emotion,” Fairfield Union coach Sky Brusco said. “I’m proud of the way we fought, we just didn’t have enough tonight; didn’t get it done.”
Fairfield Union entered the game trying to force the ball away from Aron Thress, Amanda-Clearcreek’s leading scorer, and make the Aces beat them from the 3-point line.
The Aces took 17 shots from behind the arc, making seven, while the Falcons chose to front the post and deny entry passes to the 6-foot-7 Thress. The senior scored six points on the evening, all from the free throw line. Two of those, however, came with the Aces clinging to a 2-point lead with 1.8 seconds left on the clock.
After Sam Green’s would-be go-ahead 3-pointer went in and out for Fairfield Union, Thress secured the rebound and was sent to the line. The senior made both shots to give his team a four-point lead and setup the most confusing play of the evening.
An errant whistle when the ensuing Fairfield Union in-bound pass was in mid-air left both coaches and fans confused. The officials convened to discuss the outcome — unsure if either team had called a timeout — and gave the ball to the Falcons at half court with one second remaining.
“It was a mistake, that’s what I gathered,” Aces coach Tim Leist said. “I was just afraid we would foul on the 3-point shot, that’s your worst fear.”
There was no foul on the Jordan Barr’s final 3, and the Aces escaped with the win. It was one of few misses for Barr, who finished the night with 27 points by hitting 12-of-17 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the free throw line.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Leist said. “He’s going to get his points, we just had to make sure another player didn’t step up and beat us.”
Barr kept the Falcons within reach, scoring or assisting on 11 straight points during a stretch that spanned from the end of the third quarter into the fourth. He was the only Fairfield Union player in double figures.
With Barr carrying the offense, the Falcons defensive strategy worked especially well in the first quarter. Thress did not take a shot for the Aces until more than six minutes had drained off the clock, and the Falcons took a 14-10 advantage into the second.
That’s where Dusty Riffle came in. Riffle hit four 3-pointers in the quarter after missing his first three from behind the arc. He finished with a career-high 16 points.
“I wasn’t feeling confident in the beginning, but after I hit the first one I was,” Riffle said. “They didn’t respect my 3-point shooting very much because I had only made one the entire year. I got open shots and I knocked them down.”
Riffle’s big second quarter gave the Aces a 28-25 halftime lead. They extended their margin to as many as 10 in the third before the wild fourth quarter. The Rob Cremeans also hit three shots from behind the arc and finished with and 13 points.
“Kids that hadn’t been able to shoot before, they made shots,” Brusco said. “We did a little better job in the second half, but a kid has a career night and this is what happens.”
The Aces attempted 22 free-throws compared to the Falcons’ eight. Fairfield Union also was called for two second-half technical fouls.
Although his team’s comeback attempt fell short, Brusco said he was happy with his teams fight.
“I thought our kids battled really hard against some adversity,” he said.