With a little improvisation, John Henry Hayes transformed what would have been a deflating loss for the Tivy boys into one of the most memorable moments of the season.
With the Antlers trailing Veterans Memorial by a point with 9 seconds remaining in overtime, Hayes positioned himself on the left low block for an inbounds play. Originally, he was supposed to set a screen for senior Abraham Viera at the elbow. But right as he was about to plant his feet, he noticed three defenders follow Viera to the left wing, leaving a gap in the low post. Hayes decided to capitalize, slicing to the right block. Jackson Young, the inbounds passer, immediately flicked the ball to his teammate, who buried the wide-open layup to propel the Antlers to a 56-55 overtime win over the Patriots on Tuesday at Antler Gym. Tivy (20-10, 9-3 District 26-5A) remains tied with Harlandale for No. 2 in the standings.
Senior Niko Nieto was the first to embrace Hayes, who was quickly engulfed by elated teammates. Tivy’s students also wanted to offer their congratulation, racing across the court from the student section to hug the senior. Finally, Jackson Young wrapped his arm around Hayes as they trotted toward the locker room to hear coach Brian Young’s postgame address.
But Hayes wasn’t the only hero from Tuesday’s game. Freshman center Jackson Johnston was once again precocious, leading the Antlers with 23 points. When both he and his older brother, senior Will Johnston (6 points) fouled out in overtime, Caleb Fineske (3 points) and Demetrius Cubbage stepped up and gave the Antlers critical minutes. Senior Jackson Young dropped 14 points and made some key defensive plays to help his team rally from a 55-53 deficit with less than a minute remaining.
Ultimately, everyone produced game-winning plays; Hayes just delivered the most memorable one.
“We were resilient,” Tivy coach Brian Young said. “It was a great team triumph. That’s what I would call that. … I saw a lot of leadership.
“I guess it was like boxing. Everyone was just jabbing, but in the fourth quarter, everyone threw their punches.”
It was an apt metaphor, but the Antlers had opportunities to deliver the knockout punch earlier in the game. They built a 24-17 halftime advantage and had led by as many 11 in the second half. The Patriots (14-19, 7-6), though, kept battling, slowly chipping away at Tivy’s lead. But even with 4:47 remaining in the fourth, it looked like the Antlers were going to waltz to a win after Will Johnston powered his way to the basket to extend the advantage to 47-39. The Patriots, though, closed the game on a 9-1 run to force overtime.
Then in overtime, it looked like the Antlers were going to absorb the knock blow. Jalen Bonds knifed to the basket, scored a layup and drew a foul to give the Patriots a 51-50 lead, their first advantage since scoring the game’s first bucket. J.J Thompson then drained two free throw to sport Veterans a 55-53 lead with a minute to go.
“We were ahead and they took all the momentum away,” Brian Young said. “We could have just dropped our heads, but we found a way to make plays. … We made the plays in the end.”
And they were especially clutch in the final minute. With 39.4 seconds remaining, Christian Gorham (3 points) deflected a Veterans pass that landed in the arms of Hayes. Gorham drew a foul in the backcourt and connected 1 of 2 free throws. On Veterans’ penultimate possession. Young forced Eric Green to step out of bounds with 18.9 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Hayes’ heroics. Young then intercepted another Patriot pass at the buzzer to trigger the celebration.
And what could have been a devastating defeat, one that jeopardized Tivy’s playoff hopes, became a triumph that will give the Antlers good vibes heading into the final stretch of their season.
“You saw how excited they were — that’s probably the most excited I have seen them all year long,” Brian Young said. “I think this win will just promote that enthusiasm.”
Veterans Memorial girls 63, Tivy 39
Tivy girls basketball coach Christy Dill believes Tuesday’s game against Veterans Memorial will serves as a learning experience for her Lady Antlers.
The Lady Patriots defeated Tivy, 63-39, denying the Lady Antlers (26-5, 12-2 District 26-5A) an opportunity to win their fourth straight district title.
Still, Dill is confident her players will learn from the experience.
“We will show up tomorrow ready to get a little better and start focusing on Friday’s game against Champion,” Dill said.
Audrey Robertson led the Lady Antlers with 17 points.