Last-second heartbreak

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Marionville layup at buzzer knocks Cats out of state quarters

Nine seconds.

You just can't get a whole heck of a lot done in nine seconds.

You can, however, have your heart broken into a million pieces in nine seconds.

Just ask the Thayer Bobcats.

That's the span of time it took the Marionville Comets to move 94 feet downcourt and for Brick Warth to hit a baseline layin at the buzzer, giving the Comets a 41-39 win over Thayer in the Class 2 State Quarterfinals March 12.

The loss brings the Bobcats' spectacular season to a close with a record of 26-3, denying Thayer a trip to Columbia for their second Final Four appearance in three years.

Thayer's quarterfinal clash with Marionville, who advance to their third appearance in the state semifinals in the past four years, was every bit the heavyweight match it should have been, especially in the game's late going.

With Marionville holding a 39-37 lead, and with 12 ticks left on the game clock, Josh Wemlinger split the Comets' defense in half, busting through the middle of the lane for a layup that deadlocked the game at 39-all, the first time the score had been tied since early in the first period. Wemlinger led the Cats with 15 points, 11 coming in the second half of play.

Marionville, after a timeout, inbounded the ball under Thayer's hoop and Payton Grubbs headed the other way.

Grubbs made it into the lane and the Thayer defense collapsed on him with five ticks left. Grubbs then found Warth on the baseline, and the ball found its way from Warth's hands to the bottom of the Comets' net as the final buzzer sounded, leaving a gritty comeback by Thayer two points short.

The first half of play resembled two prize fighters feeling each other out, as evidenced by Marionville's 16-12 advantage at the half.

Layne Hawkins (five points) scratched the scoreboard first for Thayer at the 4:31 mark of the first, tying the game at 4-all.

Brett Ward (nine points) accounted for the Cats' last four points of the first, leaving the Comets on top 9-6 after one.

This combination of aggressive defense and patient offense by both teams moved into the second period of play as well.

With Thayer down 14-8 at the 5:12 mark of the second, Wemlinger got loose for a pair of layups that closed the gap to 16-12, Marionville, at intermission.

The scoring opened up a bit in the third, with Wemlinger popping a jumper to open the frame that pulled the Bobcats within two points of the Comets.

However, every time the Cats got close in the third, the Comets answered with a big play of their own to hold Thayer at bay.

Grubbs hit a trey for Marionville, and Blake Setzer added a layup to push the Comets' margin back to seven, 21-14.

The Bobcats narrowed this margin to four points on a couple of occasions, but just couldn't pull any closer than that in the third, with Marionville holding a 27-23 lead heading into the final eight minutes of play.

The fourth period started with the fireworks that had been building up until that point.

Aaron Henry (four points) jacked a huge 3-pointer for Thayer, only to be answered immediately with one from Grubbs that kept the Comets on top 31-26.

Thayer's big break came with 5:01 left to play.

That's when Marionville's Setzer was whistled for a technical foul after arguing a held-ball call.

Although the Cats got just one free throw, and committed an offensive foul on their possession after the technical, they seemed to be more energized from this point forward.

That's when Andrew Eckman (six points) went to work down low.

Eckman hit a pair of tough hoops in the paint, and Marionville kept the door open for a Bobcat rally by missing the front ends of back-to-back one-and-ones.

Eckman's last hoop, at the 1:30 mark, brought his squad within two, 35-33.

Thayer swiped the ball on the Comets' next trip down the floor, and Wemlinger was fouled with 1:13 left in the game.

He hit one-of-two from the charity stripe to edge the Bobcats the closest to the lead they had been since the game was tied at 4-all.

Marionville extended the lead back to four, 38-34, before Ward hit the shot of the season for Thayer.

Nailing a triple from the top of the key with 30 seconds left, Ward kept the Bobcats' hopes alive in the waning seconds of the game, with Thayer down 38-37.

Warth then sank a free throw at the 23-second mark, before Wemlinger took matters into his own hands with the drive down the lane that locked things at 39-all.

As it often turns out in hard fought battles like this one, the team with possession of the ball last wins, and Marionville did just that on Warth's layup at the buzzer, ending the season for Thayer, the champions from District 9.

In sectional-round play, the Bobcats spotted the Greenwood Bluejays a two-point lead at the end of the first period before Thayer dominated the final three frames en route to a 55-42 win March 9 at Marshfield High School.

Down by a bucket, 14-12, at the end of the first period, the Cats held Greenwood to three points in the second, and seven in the third to take complete control of the clash.

Thayer was in an 11-7 hole at the 3:36 point of the first before the Cats rallied a bit to keep the Bluejays from building a big lead.

Hawkins (six points) popped the first of his two treys on the game, and Wemlinger hit a runner in the lane to give the Bobcats a 12-11 lead. Wemlinger paced Thayer with a game-high 19 points on the night.

Greenwood's Matt Kellough ended the first with a 3-pointer that hit the net right before the buzzer to give the Bluejays a 14-12 lead. This turned out to be the last time the Bluejays would hold the margin on their side as Thayer cranked up the defensive pressure.

A bucket from Eckman just seconds inside the second-period start tied the game and sent the Cats on a 13-zip run that put things squarely in their favor. Eckman had a big night on the low blocks for Thayer with 15 points.

After Eckman's hoop, Tollenaar converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to keep the run going, and Henry (10 points) capped the spurt by blasting his second triple of the game, giving Thayer a 25-14 lead.

The Bluejays could manage just one hoop, coming with 32 ticks left on the clock, and free throw, before Wemlinger closed the book on a productive eight minutes of play by jacking a 3-ball at the buzzer that extended Thayer's lead to 28-17 at the half.

Thayer hit the express lane in the third, outscoring Greenwood 13-7 in the frame to push its advantage to 41-24 after three, on the way to earning a berth in the state quarterfinals with a 13-point win over the Bluejays.

Ward tallied two points for Thayer.

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