ATLANTIC – Creston’s season, full of adversity, ended Monday as a 53-47 loss to Atlantic sealed the fate of a senior class that has set the foundation for the program.
Playing its sixth consecutive game that was decided in the fourth quarter, the Panthers held a lead as large as nine before Atlantic chipped away throughout the second and third quarters, putting Creston up 38-37 entering the final eight minutes of its season.
Senior Colby Burg knocked down a shot on the second possession of the fourth quarter to go up 40-38, but Atlantic took the lead back behind a free throw, and Grant Sturm knocked down the Trojans’ first field goal of the quarter at 6:26 to lead 41-40.
Coming out of a timeout, Evan Bruce hit a 3-pointer off a screen, a play Creston had success on through the beginning of the game, but Atlantic answered with a corner three to take back the lead at 44-43.
“We stopped hitting perimeter shots,” Creston head coach Bryce Schafer said. “The third quarter we hit a few, but we didn’t get any space developed through our perimeter shooting. So, they packed the lane on all of our cross screens, all of our down screens. They started switching out a little more.”
In the bonus at 3:51, Burg knocked down two free throws to take a 45-44 lead and force a timeout. Out of the break, Burg missed the front end of a one-and-one before Garrett Reynolds pushed the Trojans ahead with a shot near the lane, 46-45.
Khalil Sherrod went to the line on the next Creston possession, but he also missed the first shot of a one-and-one at the line.
“It comes down to turnovers and free throws in tight games against good competition,” Schafer said. “(Atlantic) won both of those categories. At the end, we didn’t, and that’s the game.”
After a timeout, Sturm drilled two free throws to extend Atlantic’s lead to 48-45. Burg drove to the goal, connecting on the layup with a defender in the lane but was called for a foul with 49 seconds left on the clock.
Sturm went back to the free-throw line to hit both free throws for the second time and force a Creston timeout.
Schafer called a timeout to draw up a play, but Creston turned the ball over, sending Sturm to the free-throw line again. He knocked down both shots for the second time in the fourth quarter.
Kyle Strider scored quickly on the return, putting Creston down 50-47 with 21.5 seconds left. At the line for the third time in as many possessions, Sturm went 1-for-2 from the line to lead 51-47. A missed shot on the next Creston possession came up short, ending the season.
“This group of seniors laid an incredible foundation for what I hope to build this program into and what these kids are planning on doing,” Schafer said. “They set an example. Each one of them had their own piece of the puzzle, and I look forward to the upcoming years.”
Having been through the ringer in multiple close games with a veteran crew, Schafer said he was confident until the final five seconds.
“I’ve got enough guys that have hit shots in their lives that I think we’ve got a look,” Schafer said. “I thought we had kind of gotten over the free-throw hurdle. I thought down the stretch, we had played through so many of these games that it felt like we were getting the ball in the right person’s hand, getting up to the free-throw line. But, you can’t mimic what kind of pressure kids are put on in those situations within practice or any regular-season game because it’s win or bye, it’s all over.”
Creston’s season ends at 10-10 with nine seniors – Cael Kralik, Brance Baker, Ethan Freeman, Kaden Briggs, Clayton Stafford, Brandon Berry, Cole Strider, Burg and Bruce – exiting the program.