By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Seemingly rolling along to its first district tournament championship since the last of its five state title seasons in 2007-08, Union City instead saw the wheels come off.
The fifth-ranked Golden Tornadoes fell apart down the stretch with four missed free throws and three turnovers in the final 51⁄2 minutes to fuel Humboldt’s 54-52 victory in the District 14A Tournament championship game Monday night at Trenton Peabody High School.
The gut-wrenching loss denied UC not only the league postseason title, but also a third straight win over its perennial rival this season.
Still, Union City (21-7) will enjoy a host role in Friday night’s Region 7A quarterfinals against Huntingdon (15-13), which hammered West Carroll 76-46 in the District 13 consolation game Monday night.
The regional semifinals and championship game are tentatively scheduled for Huntingdon — though that could change should District 14A sweep the four first-round games. In that instance, either Humboldt or Trenton would host the Final 4 and title game.
Coaches were meeting this morning to finalize the particulars for the event and The Messenger will publish the complete bracket in Wednesday’s edition.
UC will likely be lamenting what could’ve been had it not blown a 12-point (51-39) lead over Humboldt Monday night after Marcus DeBerry had made one of two foul shots with 5:31 to play.
The Twisters did not make another field goal, however, and missed the front end of two one-and-ones as well as two more free throws to aid the Viking rally.
Union City hit just 6-of-15 from the stripe for the game after a similar struggle (16-of-31) in Friday’s semifinal triumph over South Fulton.
“I think it’s mental,” Tornado head coach Shane Sisco said afterward. “Up until the South Fulton game Friday, we’d shot free throws really well. It’s catchy, too. And it could be the pressure of the situation.
“There are just a handful of things you can’t do and win close ballgames — especially in the tournament. You can’t give up offensive rebounds, you can’t miss free throws and you can’t turn the ball over. We didn’t do the last one, but we gave up 12 offensive rebounds that led to 17 points and we missed nine free throws, including several one-and-ones. Those two things killed us.”
UC trailed just once — that at 37-35 midway through the third stanza — until DeSonta Bradford made a bucket from in close with 1:33 showing to put Humboldt up 52-51 as part of a run of 15 unanswered points for the Vikings.
The Twisters’ Malik Stockdale missed the front end of a bonus chance and Donte Simpson went 0-for-3 from the line — a bonus opportunity also missed — to keep the door open on H’boldt’s comeback.
T.R. Agnew made a 3-pointer and two free throws before Bradford, who was named the district’s co-MVP afterward, put the Vikes in front.
A Union City turnover and Trayvon Brown’s follow-up deuce stretched the difference to 54-51 with 30 seconds to play.
Simpson made the first of two foul shots with four seconds left to cut a point off the Tornado deficit. Simpson intentionally missed the second charity, but Humboldt rebounded. The Vikings were sent to the line with one second showing and missed themselves, but UC could not get an inbounds pass in after it was awarded possession with time still on the clock.
“For 28 minutes, we executed very well on both ends,” Sisco added. “The last four minutes, we didn’t. We might’ve got a little too deliberate on offense and, of course, we didn’t make our free throws.
“We only had six turnovers for the game, and I thought Jamie Hyde did an excellent job of handling the ball against their pressure and getting us involved in what we wanted to do offensively. The key for us now is to not let this affect us as we move forward into the regionals. It’s over, and we can prevent it from happening again.”
Union City led by as much as 25-17 on a DeBerry 3-pointer at 4:42 of the second period before Humboldt — fueled by Bradford — closed the half with a rush and forged a 27-all deadlock. Bradford had 21 of his team’s points in those first two quarters.
Khiry Lewis broke a 37-37 tie with a bucket late in the third canto, then added another deuce before the quarter closed to put the locals up 45-39 heading into the stretch run.
A DeBerry triple and Simpson’s stickback of a missed 3-pointer made it 50-39 two minutes into the final frame before DeBerry made one of two from the charity stripe to account for the biggest margin of the night with 5:31 remaining.
Bradford finished with a game-high 29 points for the victors, while Stockdale had 16, Simpson 13 and DeBerry 11 in the Golden Tornadoes’ scorebook.
Stockdale had three of the Twisters’ half-dozen 3-pointers.
Hyde, Stockdale and DeBerry were selected to the all-district team for Union City.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 2.19.13