Heading into Tuesday night’s first round Sectional game at Southwestern, pundants believed that a big man would control the outcome of the Switzerland County-Milan contest.
A big man did control the game, but it wasn’t Milan’s Kyle Meyer that took over the contest, but instead it was Switzerland County junior Hunter Hayes.
The Pacer forward played his most complete game of the season, scoring 16 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 57-54 win that propels Switzerland County into tomorrow (Friday) night’s semifinal against North Decatur.
Switzerland County broke out early and didn’t look back, working their way to an 11 point lead before watching it slip away.
The first quarter opened with Milan’s Jordan Burton scoring inside, but Pacer Zach Whitaker matched that with a runner in the lane. Meyer then hit a three-pointer, and the Indians had an early lead.
The Pacers bounced right back, getting a layup from Caleb Furnish and a three-pointer by Kollin Hayes to take a two-point edge.
Milan countered with a three-point play by Jeb Minnich; and Austin King came off of the bench to make two freethrows after Burton was hurt and could not shoot his freethrows.
Down by three, Switzerland County went on a run to close the quarter, getting back to back three-pointers from Furnish and Kollin Hayes and a rebound, put-back from Justin Green to make the score 15-10 in favor of the Pacers after one exciting period of play.
Hunter Hayes got on the board and got Switzerland County started in the second period to extend the lead up to seven; but the Indians came right back with two baskets by Jacob Burton and a three-pointer by Nate Davis to tie the game at 17-17.
It was followed by a run from the Pacers, as Switzerland County got a basket by Hunter Hayes; a coast to coast layup from Dakota Fuller; and a jumper from the freethrow line by Hunter Hayes to move out to a six point lead.
Jacob Burton stopped that with a jumper, but Fuller drilled a three-pointer to keep Switzerland County out in front.
Jeb Minnich made a freethrow; and Kollin Hayes closed the half with a basket, and the teams headed to the halftime break with Switzerland County holding a 28-20 advantage.
The second half was just as close, with Hunter Hayes opening the period with a basket; which was matched by Jeb Minnich. Furnish hit another three-pointer from the baseline; and Jeb Minnich again connected on a jumper and followed that with a three-pointer.
Hunter Hayes drilled a jumper from the baseline moments later to give Switzerland County an eight-point lead; but Milan wouldn’t fold, getting baskets from Meyer and Jacob Burton to cut the deficit in half.
Kollin Hayes hit a clutch jumper to again give the Pacers from breathing room; but again Milan countered, getting a basket from Jacob Burton and a freethrow from King to close the gap to three; but Casper Stow hit a big three in the closing seconds to make the score 40-34 in favor of the Pacers after three quarters.
Things got closer as the final eight minutes got underway.
Milan’s King hit two straight baskets to open the quarter and move the Indians to within three; but Switzerland County got an outstanding basket from Whitaker on a give-and-go from Green.
After Milan scored to get within two, the stage was set for one of the key moments of the game – and possibly of the season – for the Pacers.
With 5:35 to go, Meyer powered his way to the basket and was fouled by Green. The shot went in to tie the game, and the resulting freethrow gave Milan a 43-42 lead.
Coach Adam Dennis’ Pacers have faced adversity all season long, and Milan taking the lead was a watershed moment. Would they fold, or fight?
Tuesday night: they fought.
Hunter Hayes scored to retake the lead; and that was followed by a jumper from Furnish and another bucket by Hunter Hayes; and with three minutes to go Switzerland County held a five point lead.
The Indians made another run, getting a basket from Blane Beck off of a missed freethrow by Meyer and two freethrows by Meyer to close back to within one; but again the Pacers stayed strong, getting a pair of freethrows by Hunter Hayes and a bucket by Furnish to push the lead back to five with a minute to go.
The final 60 seconds of the game was hold-your-breath, edge of your seat action.
Milan’s Jeb Minnich caught fire in the last minute, starting with a three-pointer that got the Indians to within two. Whitaker hit a runner in the lane to push the lead back to four; but again Jeb Minnich drilled a three-pointer to cut the gap to one with 28-seconds to go.
Fuller then converted two crucial freethrows to get the lead back to three; and with 15-seconds to play Jeb Minnich went to the freethrow line for two charities. The sophomore made the first but then missed the second, and Switzerland County grabbed the rebound.
Milan then fouled Fuller, but he missed the front end of the one and bonus, but the Pacers grabbed a huge offensive rebound; and with just seven second left, Fuller hit one freethrow after being fouled, and Switzerland County celebrated a 57-54 victory.
Hunter Hayes an absolutely mammoth game, recording a double-double with 16 points and 12 boards. Furnish was in double figures with 12 points; while Kollin Hayes made it a trio, finishing with 10 points.
Fuller had eight points; Whitaker had six points; Stow had three points and Green chipped in two.
Milan was led by Jeb Minnich with 18; Jacob Burton had 12; and Meyer added 10.
The win moves Switzerland County’s overall record to 8-15 on the season; and up next is one of the Sectional favorites, as North Decatur (16-6) drew a bye and will open its tournament run in tomorrow (Friday) night’s first game against the Pacers, starting at 6 p.m.
Tomorrow night’s second semifinal will feature South Ripley (19-4) and Austin (6-17). The Eagles advanced to play the Raiders with a first round 56-55 win over Southwestern in Tuesday night’s second semifinal.