KEARNEY, Mo. – When Fort Osage’s Will Penamon stepped to the free throw line with 52 seconds left, he wasn't nearly as nervous as he was in the game’s final second.
As it turned out, the Indians held on for a 58-57 victory over U.S. 24 rival William Chrisman in a Class 5 District 14 semifinal thriller at Kearney High School. But the Bears nearly pulled off the win.
Penamon calmly sank both free throws with 52 seconds remaining to give Fort Osage a 58-55 lead.
With 20 seconds left, William Chrisman's Randall Horn hit a soft layup and was fouled. His free throw shot would have knotted the score, but it rimmed away and was grabbed by a host of Fort Osage and Chrisman players.
A jump ball was called, and a cat-and-mouse game ensued between Bears coach Chad Wright and Indians coach Josh Wilson.
The ball went to the Bears, who called a timeout. Once they took the court, Wilson called a timeout to set up his defense.
The Bears ran the clock down and got off a clean look at the basket, but it ricocheted to Horn, who hit what appeared to be the game-winner as the buzzer sounded.
But the official with the best look at the play waved off the basket, and the Indians owned a one-point win and a trip to tonight's 7:45 p.m. championship contest against host Kearney, who upset top-seeded Liberty earlier Thursday.
“When I made those free throws to give us the lead, I wasn't nearly as nervous as I was at the end, watching that last shot,” said Penamon, who finished with 10 points. “I knew I had to make them if we wanted to take that late lead, but watching that last shot was crazy. I was shaking, my heart was pounding and I wanted to cry. Then I wanted to smile. Then I wanted to cry again. It was crazy.”
Wright said eventually he agreed with the call against his team.
“For about five seconds, I thought the shot was good. I disagreed with the ref, but he made the right call,” Wright said. “It's just, so tough for the season to end like that, especially for our seniors."
Chrisman senior Alex Ball played like there was no tomorrow as he scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the first quarter.
“We didn't have an answer for Alex Ball the first half,” Wilson said. “Then we put Brandon Hoeppner on him and he scores three points the second half. Those are the reasons we won this game, the play of guys like Hoeppner and Will's free throws and that HUGE 3-point basket by Josh Alt.”
Alt drilled a 3-point basket in the closing minutes to help the Indians regain a slim lead they had lost after the strong play of Chrisman's Chris Horn, who scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“To be a senior, and win a game like this, and to hit that 3-pointer, I don't even know what to say,” said Alt, who finished with nine points. “I can't imagine how Chrisman feels. They played so hard. We're all crying and we won – it was an emotional locker room.”
Now, the 18-6 Indians must overcome those emotions and find a way to beat a Kearney team they edged on a Penamon 3-point shot at the buzzer earlier this season.
“We can do it; we can come back,” said Brian Starr, a starter who sat the bench at the beginning of the game because he was late to a film study session Thursday morning. “I let my teammates and coaches down and I had to come in make up for the time I missed.”
He finished with 17 points and half a dozen steals – with many thwarting late Chrisman scoring opportunities.
“We had to win this one,” Starr said as tears streamed down his face. “We had to.”
As Ball left the gymnasium, he hugged many of the Indians while trying to keep his composure.
“It was a great game,” he said, managing a thin smile, “I just wish it would have had a different outcome.”
Fort's Skylar Thompson finished with 13 points and Brett Pendergist scored eight for the Bears in his final high school game.
The Bears finished 14-12 and earned the praise of Wright, who said, “These guys played their best game tonight. I couldn't be any prouder of them.”