Switzerland County rolled into the finals of last weekend’s South Ripley Sectional with a win on Friday night over Austin, but it wasn’t as easy as many Pacer fans had hoped, as Switzerland County had to forge a furious comeback and then go to overtime before beating the Eagles, 52-44.
The Pacers got things going early with a pair of free throws from Austin Clark and a basket in the lane from Trevor Smith; but the Eagles got a three-pointer from Markus Fleenor, a basket from Cody Lesnet, and a couple of free throws from Chris Mayfield to take an early 7-4 lead.
Austin Clark had two more free throws for Switzerland County to narrow the gap, but Markus Fleenor responded with another three-pointer and a jumper to increase the Austin lead to six.
The end of the opening quarter was when the Pacers made their move offensively, scoring the final seven points of the period on baskets by Trevor Smith and Alex Curran and a closing-seconds three-pointer by Chase Ritch that gave Switzerland County a 13-12 lead after one period.
Trevor Smith extended that lead to three as the second quarter got underway, but Austin’s Jeremiah White countered that with an inside bucket.
Switzerland County then got hit with some bad luck, as Austin Clark was whistled for two offensive fouls within seconds of each other, and that sent him to the bench for the final five minutes of the half.
Alex Curran got free inside for a basket; but again Austin just wouldn’t go away, as Markus Fleenor scored again. When Jeremiah White got free inside for another bucket, with two minutes to go in the half, the Eagles were back in front.
Alex Curran tried to keep his teammates close, grabbing his own rebound and converting the put-back for another bucket to push the Pacers back in front, and that’s how things stayed for the remainder of the quarter, and the Pacers and the Eagles went to the halftime break with Switzerland County tenuously in front, 19-18.
Things looked promising as the third quarter got underway, as Chase Ritch drilled another three-pointer to extend Switzerland County’s lead to four; but again the Eagles countered, getting another three-pointer from Markus Fleenor and baskets from Cody Lesnet and Chris Mayfield to take a 25-22 lead.
The Pacers attacked again, getting a basket from Trevor Smith to get within one – and that’s when things got strange.
After an altercation under the basket, Austin’s Jeremiah White was assessed a technical foul. That sent Switzerland County’s Austin Clark to the free-throw line for two free throws, and also gave possession of the ball to the Pacers.
But after Austin Clark made the first free-throw, Austin’s coach Joe Sibbitt was hit with a technical of his own for arguing over the first technical. That gave Switzerland County four free throws.
But the second technical caused a delay that threw off Austin Clark’s free-throw touch, and the junior made just two of the four attempts; and when the Pacers failed to convert the possession into points, the two technicals fired up both the Austin team and their fans.
With Switzerland County holding a one point lead, Austin’s Chris Mayfield raced through the lane to score and retake the lead for the Eagles. Trevor Smith matched that with a pair of freethrows; but Cody Lesnet followed that with a three-pointer that gave Austin a 30-28 lead with 1:36 to go in the quarter.
Trevor Smith then scored again in the lane to tie the game, but Austin closed the period with three more points to take a 33-30 advantage into the final stanza – and when the Eagles opened the final quarter with another basket that made the lead five, Switzerland County fans began to worry that the sectional final may not be a sure thing.
Clint Swanson broke the run with a frantic race down the baseline for a bucket; but Cody Lesnet kept Austin in front with another basket. Trevor Smith brought the Pacers back to within three; and when Chase Ritch hit another three-pointer with 4:17 to play, the game was tied at 37-37.
Austin wouldn’t fold, and the Eagles got a basket from Ben Baker, but that was matched by a jumper from Braden Burk.
Devin Richey then scored for Austin; and when Markus Fleenor drilled a long three-pointer, suddenly Switzerland County was down by five points again, 44-39, with 1:33 to play in the game.
But the Pacers didn’t win 16 regular season games by folding in clutch situations, and they didn’t again on Friday night.
Austin Clark moved outside and nailed a three-pointer; and after Chris Mayfield missed the front end of a one-and-bonus situation, Switzerland County poured the ball inside, and again Austin Clark responded, getting fouled as he moved to the hoop.
The resulting pair of free throws tied the game at 44-44, and sent the game into overtime.
In the extra frame it was all Pacers, as Austin Clark literally took over the contest.
He had two straight baskets and followed those with two free-throws to give Switzerland County a six point lead; and when Braden Burk converted a steal into a layup with 21-seconds remaining, Switzerland County had survived the Austin scare and set its sights squarely on Saturday’s Sectional final.
Austin, leading 44-39 with 1:33 to go in the fourth quarter, never scored again.
Austin Clark led the Switzerland County scoring with 17 points – six of those in the overtime period; and Trevor Smith had another clutch game, finishing in double figures with 14 points. Chase had three three-pointers for nine points; Alex Curran had six points; Braden Burk had four points; and Clint Swanson finished with two points.
Markus Fleenor led Austin with 18 points; and Cody Lesnet was also in double figures with 10.
The win launched the Pacers into the Sectional championship game on Saturday night against North Decatur, who went to overtime in Friday’s opening game to defeat the host South Ripley squad.