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Trimble County’s Skiler Alexander toed the charity stripe with 19.4 seconds remaining in a frenzied game with border rival Carroll County—a contest where the momentum had swung back and forth like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. Alexander and his Raiders had watched a 14-point, 57-43 lead gradually disappear over the final five minutes of the game.
With his team fronting 62-61, Alexander determinedly sank the first of two free throws to give the Raiders a 63-61 edge. His second try rimmed off into the hands of Carroll County junior Dallas Gibson. The miss and the carom proved Trimble’s undoing as seconds later junior guard Brandon Stewart lit up the scoreboard with his only trey of the evening quieting the Trimble spectator contingent while giving his Panther teammates a 64-63 advantage.
First-year Trimble head coach John Leep III called for a time out with 3.4 seconds showing on the clock to chart one final offensive effort for the Raiders.
Carroll County managed a steal on the inbounds play and Alexander fouled Trey Boles to prevent another Carroll County score. Boles missed both charity attempts, and with two-tenths of a second on the clock Alexander grabbed the rebound and launched a length of the floor desperation attempt that went wide. The black and gold-bedecked fans on the south side of the gymnasium roared in celebration in response to their team’s late resurgence and triumph while Trimble’s fans mourned what might have been.
“On a big night like this everybody went away with some level of excitement,” Panther head coach Carroll Yager said following the game. “Both sets of fans should be excited about coming back to see their team the next time they play. That’s the great thing about high school sports to see the communities competing in a good clean game. There were no problems. Both teams were playing as hard as they could play.”
“My kids played extremely hard,” Leep said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way they played. The game came down to free throw shooting. They were fouling us from the beginning of the fourth quarter. We were in the double bonus and we just weren’t making free throws.”
The Raiders converted only six of 13 free tries during the final eight minutes of play. Alexander wasn’t the only Raider bitten at the line in that time frame. After nailing his first four charity tosses in the quarter senior guard Daniel Haney sank one of his next five attempts over the final five minutes of play. Overall, the Raidersmanaged to convert only19 of 37 free tries and failed to take advantage of numerous bonus opportunities.
In the early going Trimble led 9-3 before a Dakota Corbin basket and a four-point possession at the expense of Leep’s first technical foul as a varsity coach enabled the Panthers to tie the score with 2:47 to play in the first quarter. Trimble managed to out-point the Panthers 5-4 over the remainder of the period to take a 14-13 lead at the quarter stop.
Carroll County fought back to a tie at 18-18 and pulled out to a 22-19 advantage before the Raiders tied the score for a third time on the strength of a three-point basket by senior guard Austin Rexroat.
The Raider defense forced the Panthers to cough up the ball on possession after possession and, with the Trimble offensive machine clicking, surged to a 36-26 lead at the halftime break.
Carroll County seized the momentum in the early minutes of the third stanza as the Panthers pulled to within three, at 41-38, with 3:41 remaining in the quarter. It was Trimble’s turn to come alive as they outscored the Panthers 8-1 to again sport a 10-point lead at the third quarter rest.
Carroll County banged down four three-pointers in the final eight minutes of play and gradually worked their way back into the contest. The Panthers still trailed by 11, 61-50, with 2:50 showing on the clock.
“Every time we would miss one or miss two they would come down and make a play and cut into it,” Leep said. “We’d come down and make one or miss two and they came down and made a play. We’d score a basket and they would come down and make a play. They whittled it down until finally they made just one more play than we did. That’s a tribute to their team. They’re well coached and they outlasted us.”
Leep, a onetime Carroll County basketball standout who had coached all of the current Panthers at the middle school and junior varsity levels, felt a mixture of emotions before and during the battle.
“Before the game it was a little odd, but during the game it was we were Trimble County, they were Carroll County, and we were doing everything we could to beat them,” he said.
It was a new experience for the Panther players.
“He had coached all of our boys,” Yager said. “They’ve never done something like that—play against a former coach. To them that was a unique experience, too.”
But when it came down to the game, everyone’s loyalty fell to their team.
“At no time during the game, even when we were up 12 or 13 points, did I think we had it in hand simply from the fact that I’ve coached all of them and I know there’s no quit in them,” Leep said. “They’re a great bunch of kids and they stepped up and made big plays tonight and a lot of credit goes to them for that.”
Yager told his team in a post-game locker room meeting that he was “really proud of the character that they showed, particularly at the end. “They never, never stopped believing and really worked hard to try to make it happen and we were very fortunate.”
Carroll’s Gibson had a big night leading all scorers with 22 points and pulling down 15 of the Panthers’ 36 rebounds. Boles contributed 10 points, John Perry nine, Stewart and Walls seven each, Corbin six and a trey by Jay Damron completed a balanced scoring night for the black and gold.
Rexroat paced the Raiders with 18 points. Four of his five field goals were from beyond the arc. Rexroat sank four of five free throws.
“Austin got real sick yesterday at school,” Leep said. “He was throwing up. He was able to get some medical treatment from his father who is an EMT. He took a couple bags of IV. We didn’t even know up until game time if he was going to play. He sure stepped up and had a monster effort for us and was really crucial in us building our lead. He just played great.”
Alexander chipped in 11 points and led the Raiders in rebounding with 10 boards. Senior forward Stuart Barnes scored nine points, Haney and Craig Ward contributed eight each, Dylan Staples and Michael Gonterman each had four and Robbie Brooks added a free throw. Haney and Barnes each pulled down five of Trimble’s 36 rebounds.
“I think both teams were playing with so much emotion,” Yager said. “Both teams played as hard as they could possibly play and it was a great game. It’s a shame somebody has to lose.”