Three Rivers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Wednesday night in a 61-60 Class B boys district basketball semifinal heartbreaker to Dowagiac.
Trailing, 60-57 with just under a minute to play, the Chieftains forced three turnovers and blocked a shot during the waning seconds to advance to Friday night’s district championship game against Paw Paw.
Following the basket by sophomore Parker Ellifritz that staked the Wildcats to the lead, Dowagiac senior Caleb Murphy meshed one of his two free throw attempts on the Chieftains’ ensuing possession to make it 60-58.
A steal by Trae Brookins resulted in two free throws for the 5-foot-10 sophomore that tied the score at 60-60 with 25.9 seconds remaining on the scoreboard clock.
Three Rivers coach Brian Burg signaled for a timeout after the Brookins free throws. Following the stoppage, Dowagiac senior Jadyn Smith forced another Wildcats turnover and Brookins meshed the eventual game-winning free throw with 14.5 ticks left.
Three Rivers raced down the court and got the ball to junior Jalen Heivilin, but Murphy rejected his layup attempt with 11.7 seconds remaining.
Following another Three Rivers timeout, the Wildcats again turned the ball over. Brookins missed the front end end of the 1-and-1, and Smith later missed two free throws with 3.6 ticks left.
Burg used his final timeout to draw up the final offensive play of the game, but a heave at the buzzer by Ellifritz from just inside half-court missed its mark.
“We had a chance; we put ourselves in position,” Burg said. “We diagrammed a play to come down against the press and turned it over.
“I give my kids credit. We had two days to prepare for this, and we prepared. It looked like we had it, and it just slipped away from us at the end. It’s tough.”
Dowagiac coach Danum Hunt was quick to credit Three Rivers for the way the Wildcats controlled the tempo throughout the game.
“They were able to slow the tempo down on us and we fell right into the trap,” he said. “We talked, pre game, about setting the pace, but we just weren’t able to do that at any point tonight.
“We seemed to be one step behind when we were trapping, defensively, and we were a little slow. Three Rivers played an outstanding game. They’re a good team and (Burg) is a great coach.”
Ellifritz scored a game-high 18 points for Three Rivers, while senior Tirrell Hausmanis added 14. Heivilin recorded a double-double for the Wildcats with 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Three Rivers (8-13) shot 40.7 afield (22 of 54) and outrebounded Dowagiac by a 46-27 margin.
Murphy paced the Chieftains’ balanced scoring attack with 14 points. Brookins finished with 13 points, while Demetrius Lanier and Smith chipped in with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Dowagiac (15-5) shot 39.3 percent from the field (22 of 56) and committed just five turnovers for the game, all of which came during the first two quarters.
Shaquan Stanback 7, Demetrius Lanier 11, Trae Brookins 13, Jadyn Smith 10, Caleb Murphy 14, James Merchant 2, Donzell Reid 2, Keith Kidd 0, Jamin Hunt 2.
THREE RIVERS (60)
Parker Ellifritz 18, Nolan Mark 2, Jalen Heivilin 14, Tirrell Hausmanis 15, Gavin Charvat 9, Jensin Blyly 2, Brendan Brown 0.
Dowagiac 18 15 13 15 — 61
Three Rivers 14 18 15 13 — 60
3-point field goals: Stanback, Lanier 3, Brookins 3 (Dowagiac), Ellifritz 3, Heivilin 2, Charvat 2 (Three Rivers). Team fouls: Dowagiac 11, Three Rivers 15. Fouled out: None. Records: Dowagiac 15-5, Three Rivers 8-13.
Story by Bill Templeton