In front of a standing room only crowd for the CAAC Blue title battle on Friday night, only the Holt Rams were left standing.
Senior Don’Quall Jackson made a free throw with just seconds remaining for Holt and a halfcourt shot to win it from J.T. Houghton was just off the mark, giving the Rams a 65-64 overtime win and an outright conference championship.
Holt (15-3, 11-3) was once three games back in the league race, but made up significant ground in the final month and ultimately avenged a home loss to Grand Ledge (11-6, 10-4).
“When has this happened last? It never comes down to the last game where two teams are ranked number one, so it’s incredible,” Holt coach Matt Essell said. “We talked about how fun it was going to be to do it here because it was such a rowdy atmosphere here and we talked about how special that would be, and it was.”
“It’s a rivalry game. It’s for the championship. They came out, fought hard. We fought hard and it was just a great game,” Jackson said.
Holt looked like it would be able to close out Grand Ledge in regulation, but the Comets fought their way back into it.
Trent Stone had two different lay-ins that gave the Rams a four-point, fourth quarter lead. The second put Holt up 55-51.
Houghton made two free throws to cut the lead in half, and Holt senior Tyrell Williams answered with a free-throw of his own with 40 seconds left to put the lead at 56-53.
Sophomore Malek Adams pulled Grand Ledge to within one point with 25 seconds left and Jackson went to the free throw line for two foul shots.
Jackson, who finished with 15 points, missed the first and made the second, giving the Comets a chance to tie or take the lead.
Cassell Jones got the last shot in regulation for Grand Ledge and hit a tough leaner down low to tie the game with seven seconds remaining. Holt could not get the winning basket on their possession and the game went to overtime.
Grand Ledge came out in the extra four-minute session and seized control. Another tough basket from Jones provided the first points of overtime and then Houghton hit an open triple to give the Comets a five-point lead.
“It was hard because we couldn’t get rid of them. It just seemed like every point we scored was so hard-fought,” Essell said. “For me, it just felt like we were playing really, really well and we can’t get away from these guys. When you lead for so long and then you lose it, it’s really deflating. It looked like a funeral at the end of regulation on my bench.”
Jackson lifted Holt back into the game with a three-point play via basket and foul shot, and Grand Ledge led 64-61 when Colin Jones delivered arguably the play of the game for the Rams with another three-point play to tie things back up.
“The moment is never too big for him. He loves the big moment,” Essell said of Jones.
The Comets came up empty on their next trip and Jackson was fouled while driving to the basket with less than four seconds remaining.
Jackson again missed the first, but knocked down the second as the sound level in the gymnasium reached its apex.
“I knew I had to hit it. It was a big shot,” Jackson said.
“That’s my point guard. That’s a captain. That’s one of the leaders on the team. I knew he was going to step up big in a big moment,” Jones said after scoring 24 points for Holt.
Grand Ledge coach Scott Lewis was proud of his team afterwards, as the Comets rallied from 10 points down in the first half and eight points down early in the third quarter to remain in the contest.
“They played phenomenal. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. It’s an awesome group of kids and they played their (tails) off tonight,” Lewis said. “Basketball’s a game of runs and Holt made a run early and we made a run late and unfortunately they just made the last run.”
Stone had 13 points for Holt. Cassell Jones led the Comets with 24 points while Adams added 17 and Houghton had 13 for Grand Ledge.