ATHENS — This game will go down in Miami Trace basketball history as one of the absolute toughest, most heart-breaking finishes to any game played by young men wearing a Panther uniform.
The Panthers battled the Fairfield Union Falcons Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center in Athens for a Division II District championship and the chance to play another game this week back at the Convo in the Regional semifinals.
The Panthers were leading by five points with approximately three minutes to play in the game.
Unfortunately, the Falcons caught up to and passed the Panthers in the waning moments to pull out the win, 42-40.
Miami Trace ends a very memorable 2016-17 season with a final record of 21-4.
Fairfield Union improves to 23-2 and will take on Columbus Eastmoor Academy (20-6), winners of the Worthington District, back at the Convo Thursday at 8 p.m.
The other Regional semifinal Thursday will feature Vinton County (23-2, one of those losses being at the hands of Miami Trace) going up against Byesville Meadowbrook (24-3).
Two things stand out in this game that may have cost them the victory.
One was their slow offensive start to the game.
The Panthers missed their first 10 shots from the floor.
In spite of this, however, the Falcons struggled offensively at the start as well.
When senior Blake Pittser hit his team’s first bucket of the game, with 2:55 to play in the first quarter, the Panthers trailed by just two points, 4-2.
There was a discrepancy in free throw shooting that can’t be overlooked.
Miami Trace only went to the line twice in the game. Senior DeAndre Pettiford, who shared game high-scoring honors with 13 points, was 1 of 1 from the line and junior Darby Tyree was 1 of 1 from the line.
Fairfield Union had 14 shots from the free throw line and made nine of them. Therein lay the difference.
Miami Trace made 16 two-point baskets and two three-point shots.
Fairfield Union made 15 two-point shots and just one three-point bucket.
Fairfield Union took an 8-2 lead with 1:18 to play in the first quarter. That was the Falcons’ biggest lead of the game.
The Panthers scored the last five points of the opening period with a two-point shot by junior Cameron Carter and a three by Pittser, setting the score at 8-7 in favor of the Falcons at the end of one.
The lead changed hands eight times in the second quarter, each team matching the other, bucket for bucket.
The Panthers led 18-14 after an old-fashioned three-point play from DeAndre Pettiford with 3:13 to play until the half.
Fairfield Union scored the next six points to take a 20-18 lead.
With one minute to play in the half, DeAndre Pettiford scored again, tying the game, 20-20. That was the score at the halftime break as both teams missed their final two shots of the first half.
The third quarter proved favorable to Miami Trace.
Fairfield Union scored first, but Pittser answered with a three.
Darby Tyree had an old-fashioned three-point play at the 5:24 mark to put the Panthers in front, 26-22.
The Falcons twice pulled to within two points, but the Panthers maintained the slim lead.
The Panthers again pushed their lead up to a game-high six points after baskets from Carter and DeAndre Pettiford.
DeAndre Pettiford scored at the buzzer ending the third quarter with the Panthers in front, 34-28.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter saw the momentum, at least at the end, swing back to the Falcons.
Leading by two points, 34-32, with 6:10 to play, Miami Trace came down the floor and milked over two minutes off the clock.
Finally, the Panthers took a shot and missed, but DeAndre Pettiford had the put-back for a 36-32 score with 3:55 left to go.
After Fairfield Union went 1 of 2 from the line, Miami Trace had another rebound and put-back, this time from Pittser, to give the Panthers a 38-33 lead.
Fairfield Union wasted no time at all in going down and scoring to make it 38-35.
After a Panther turnover, the Falcons scored again, pulling to with one point, 38-37 with 2:15 to play.
Miami Trace missed on the offensive end and the Falcons scored on their third possession in a row to go in front, 39-38 with 1:27 play.
The Panthers turned the ball over again on their next possession and after a time out, the Falcons made it an 8-0 run, taking a 41-38 lead with one minute to play.
DeAndre Pettiford scored what would be the Panthers’ final basket of the game, and the season, with 41.7 seconds to play.
The Panthers had to foul twice to send the Falcons to the free throw line, where Jack Wolshire went 1 of 2 to make it 42-40.
The Panthers quickly called a time out before in-bounding the ball with 15 seconds remaining.
Fairfield Union had several fouls left to give and began fouling the Panthers quickly after each in-bounds play.
Fairfield Union knocked the ball away from a Panther player and out of bounds with 7.4 seconds left.
The Panthers tried a shot or a pass up to another player at the basket, but it was either tipped away by a Fairfield Union player or caromed in some fashion back out toward the three point line.
With about three seconds left, the ball was bouncing away from the Miami Trace basket.
Darby Tyree was able to retrieve the ball, but he had no time to pass to a teammate or set himself for a good look. He had to grab the ball, turn, jump and shoot, all in one motion and the high-arching shot appeared for all the world to be headed into the basket for what would have been a thriller of an all-time game-winning ending for the Panthers.
Instead, as fate would have it, the shot, in the air as the horn sounded, rimmed out.
Several Panther players simply collapsed on the floor where they were when the shot was taken.
It took a couple of minutes to get everyone back on their feet and back to the bench for the post game award presentations.
It was about as hard a way to come up on the short end of the score as one could possibly imagine.
“We apologized for not doing a better job throughout the course of the year distributing minutes,” Miami Trace head coach Rob Pittser said. “Just because we have so much depth. Every single night as a staff we felt like, we should have found a couple more minutes for this kid or a couple more minutes for that kid.
“When you’ve got 11 or 12 or 13 kids who can legitimately play and no one plays more than eight or nine kids at the most, you just run out of minutes,” Pittser said. “We told them we were sorry we didn’t do a better job of distributing the minutes during the course of the year for guys that deserved them.
“I also told them they’ve given me the best decade of my professional life,” Pittser said. “Most of this senior class has been with me for 10 years. It’s a really pure situation. They’ve never played for another coach, another staff. Ten years is a long time to have a group of kids and that kind of gives you a chance to make it your own.
“At the end of 10 years, to have a class that has nine kids still playing, that’s got more wins than any team in school history, that’s contributed more wins in four years, that has more accumulated varsity letters than any class in school history, two Sectional championships, a league title; we very easily could have had a District title tonight, although it slipped through our fingers, we’re just overly, overly proud of this group of kids and what they’ve accomplished,” Pittser said. “It’ll be a long time before a class that deep and that talented comes our way again.
“(Fairfield Union) is a grind-it-out club,” Pittser said. “We knew if they stayed within striking distance, it could be an issue for us late. I thought we were in a good place, I really did. I thought we held the big kid (Woodside), limited him a little bit. You’re not going to stop a kid that good and that big and that strong. I didn’t think he dominated us inside.
“We had a lead late in the game and we thought we were in a decent place,” Pittser said. “We did turn the ball over a couple of times in the fourth quarter. But, it comes down to making shots. We missed a couple of shots we could have made; we had a turnover or two that were unforced and uncharacteristic. We started the game with (several) missed shots. We could have easily had an eight or 10-point lead at halftime. It wasn’t like we were taking bad shots, we just didn’t shoot the ball well to start the game.
“A lot of credit to Fairfield Union,” Pittser said. “They do a good job of staying with their structure and with their plan. Their coaches do a good job and they have good kids. They hung around and made more shots in the fourth quarter than we did.”
Miami Trace says thank you and farewell to its nine seniors: DeAndre Pettiford, Skyler McDonald, Tyrae Pettiford, Mitchell Creamer, Seth Leach, Blake Pittser, Keondrick Bryant, Jacob Batson and Tiante Connell.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
MT 7 13 14 6 — 40
FU 8 12 8 14 — 42
MIAMI TRACE — DeAndre Pettiford 6-1-13; Blake Pittser 3 (2)-0-12; Cameron Carter 4-0-8; Darby Tyree 1-1-3; Tyrae Pettiford 1-0-2; Seth Leach 1-0-2; Keondrick Bryant 0-0-0; Mitchell Creamer 0-0-0; Skyler McDonald 0-0-0. TOTALS — 16 (2)-2-40. Free throw shooting: 2 of 2 for 100 percent. Three-point field goals: Pittser, 2. Combined field goal shooting: 18 of 50 for 36 percent. Three-point field goal shooting: 2 of 15 for 13 percent. Rebounds: 26 (8 offensive). Assists: 7. Steals: 6. Blocks: 2. Turnovers: 7. Personal fouls: 11. Bench points: 8. Second chance points: 10. Points off turnovers: 8.
FAIRFIELD UNION — Colin Woodside 5-3-13; Evan Conley 3 (1)-1-10; Hayden Price 3-4-10; Lucas Thompson 3-0-6; Jack Wolshire 1-1-3; Spencer Conrad 0-0-0; Brad Miller 0-0-0. TOTALS — 15 (1)-9-42. Free throw shooting: 9 of 14 for 64 percent. Three-point field goal: Conley. Combined field goal shooting: 16 of 39 for 41 percent. Three-point field goal shooting: 1 of 13 for 7 percent. Rebounds: 26 (7 offensive). Assists: 4. Steals: 2. Blocks: 0. Turnovers: 10. Personal fouls: 6. Bench points: 10. Second chance points: 10. Points off turnovers: 4.
Stats were provided all season by assistant coach Cory Patton and scorebook-keeper Tom ‘Chatter’ Harris. Thank you.
Reach Chris Hoppes at 740-335-3611, ext. 1104, or on Twitter @choppes1