HOWARD CITY — Close basketball games usually come down to free throws.
Wednesday’s district semifinal between Central Montcalm and Tri County wasn’t any different. In just the final 10 seconds of the game both teams thought they had won the game.
But it was Tri County that did. The Vikings’ Alexis Firovich stepped to the line and drained two free throws with 4.7 seconds left for a 59-58 victory over the Green Hornets.
Firovich’s free throws came five seconds after Central Montcalm’s Alex Barnwell hit two free throws for a 58-57 lead.
“That in a nutshell is the story of our season,” Hornets coach Marty James said. “The girls gave it everything they had.”
After Barnwell’s free throws, Firovich took the inbounds pass all the way down the court and was fouled in the paint with just seconds left in the game.
“We needed to play better defense there,” James said. “That’s the one thing we didn’t want happen was them to run the floor.”
“Those were two huge free throws by Alexis,” Tri County coach Wes Zerlaut said. “I told her if she had made the front end of a one-and-one 30 seconds earlier it would have been easier on her.”
Firovich finished the night with a game-high 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“She had a great game offensively and defensively,” Zerlaut said. “As much as she had the ball and to only turn it over three times was great. It was just a great night for her all around.”
Central Montcalm opened the fourth quarter with an 8-4 run for a 51-47 lead with 4:28 remaining in the game. That was the first Hornet lead since the first quarter.
“We had some defensive lapses in the fourth quarter,” James said. “That allowed them back in the game. It was very loud and they couldn’t hear me, especially on the defensive side in the second half.”
The Tri County student section was full. They were seated at the Hornets defensive end in the second half and it effected the Central Montcalm communication.
“That’s home court advantage and that’s what it is all about. They created that,” James said. “Kudos to their students and shame on our students for not showing up. That’s school spirit and we need to get a piece of it.
“That made a difference in the game. It really did. Miscommunication was constantly happening because they couldn’t hear me,” he added.
Tri County came back to take a 56-52 lead with 1:05 remaining in the game. Firovich had nine points in the quarter to help the comeback.
“You probably won’t find a closer game statistically or on the scoreboard,” Zerlaut said.
Barnwell led the Hornets with 14 points while Karli Clark added 13 points.
Kaylie Caverley had 10 points and Keech eight points for the Vikings.
Central Montcalm finished the season at 7-14 overall.
Tri County improved to 5-17 overall.
After winning just three games in the regular season, they have won twice in the district tournament.
“We learned how to play hard throughout the course of the year,” Zerlaut said. “I hate to say it, but during the year it was almost like we found a way to lose at times. Now, we are finding a way to win.
“We also have had some nice contributions from some of the freshman and sophomores we brought up during the year,” he added.
Tri County will face Sparta Friday at 7 p.m. for the district title at home.
“We saw them earlier in the year,” Zerlaut said of Sparta. “They are a good team and will be the favorite. We will play hard and see what happens.”
TRI COUNTY 59, CENTRAL MONTCALM 58
C. Montcalm 13 21 9 15 — 58
Tri County 14 20 9 16 — 59
C. MONTCALM (7-14) — Thomas 2 0-0 5, Crooks 3 1-4 8, Barnwell 4 6-7 14, McKeown 3 1-2 9, Clark 6 1-3 13, Case 1 3-5 5, Flint 0 4-6 4. Totals: 19 16-28 58. Three-point goals: McKeown 2, Crooks, Thomas. Fouled out: None.
TRI COUNTY (5-17) — Lagunas 2 2-4 6, Keech 2 2-7 8, Redner 1 1-2 3, Caverley 4 2-2 10, Ke. Hackbardt 1 0-0 3, Ka. Hackbardt 2 1-2 5, Firovich 9 4-5 24. Totals: 21 12-24 59. Three-point goals: Keech 2, Firovich 2, Ke. Hackbardt. Fouled out: None.