Walter Knapke book ended the game with five of the most important points of the night and ultimately clinched Heritage’s return trip to the ACAC Tournament with a 57-56 win on Friday night against Woodlan.
The Heritage senior opened the game with a three pointer and then hit a pair of free throws with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter to put Heritage up by four points and wrap up the win in one of the season’s best games that went back and forth literally until the closing seconds. The night culminating with a huge (and loud) explosion of joy from the entire team as first year Patriot coach Adam Gray walked into the locker room.
“You always see it on TV and all of that stuff, but the first time you get to do it, it is special. Especially with this group of guys,” Gray said. “We’ve got six seniors so for them to instill their trust in what we are trying to do, even when it didn’t look like it was working tonight, it was special.”
After Knapke’s game opening three, the Patriots used strong offensive rebounding, especially from Cameron Mitchell and Knapke to build a 12-6 lead.
“If you come out and watch us warm up, you wouldn’t think Walt is our second leading rebounder, but he is,” Gray said. “It is just desire. It is desire and he knows how to use his body. He is going to use his body the right way to get you out of position so he can go chase it down.”
“We are little in size, so we just have to step up and do it,” Knapke added matter of factly.
Woodlan fought back for the first of many times, culminating in a Trevor Wiedenhoeft inbounds pass steal and pass to Konnor Norman for a layup that tied the game at 12. The teams exchanged shots in the final minute of the first quarter with Wiedenhoeft hitting a three pointer with 26 seconds left to give Woodlan a lead, but Alec Burton ended the quarter with a power layup and Woodlan led 15-14.
In the second quarter, the ups and downs of Mitchell’s game ended up being a sticking point. His strong and-one play pushed them ahead again a minute into the quarter. His free throws at the four minute mark gave the Patriots a 23-16 lead. But with two and a half minutes left before the half, Mitchell picked up fouls on back to back trips up the court on a charge and an illegal screen.
The next Woodlan run was highlighted by a Mitch Mendenhall block of a shot and then layup, followed by Aiden Baymen using a nifty spin move and a turnaround 10 foot jumper that closed the half again at a one point game, this time 23-22 in favor of Heritage.
Mitchell came back strong in the third quarter, scoring the first five points out of the break. With 4:23 left in the third quarter, Mendenhall missed at the basket and Heritage took off on a fast break that ended with Jason Holliness-Bell scoring through really strong defense from Bayman. That basket increased Heritage’s lead to 37-29. The stretch really highlighted Heritage’s ability to play fiesty, blue collar basketball against a Woodlan team that prides itself on playing that way.
“It’s huge. We come in every game trying to play hard, just doing what we can do,” Knapke said.
But again, Woodlan bounced back. This time, it was Bayman who took over. He scored on back to back possessions, knocking down a three pointer and then scored in transition with 2:41 to play in the quarter that got Woodlan within a single point. Heritage’s Burton and Woodlan’s Ben Reidy exchaged a pair of three pointers and ultimately Heritage took another one point lead, 43-42, at the end of the third quarter.
It took three minutes and nine seconds into the final quarter for either team to score with both teams trading stifling defense and a little bit of unforced error. Holliness-Bell ended the droughts with a heavy rebound and put back. It took another minute for Woodlan to score when Norman knocked down a pair of free throws
The Warriors had several attempts down one point down the stretch of the game but couldn’t get the go ahead. The teams matched each other for a while. If Heritage scored to go up three, Woodlan scored to make it a one point game. If Woodlan got a stop on defense, then Heritage would get a stop on defense.
“We knew defensively is where this game was going to come down to. We knew if we got stops at the right time, we are pretty tough to score against if we are in the right position,” Gray said. “Those stops are what won the game for us is what it comes down to.”
With three minutes to go, Holliness-Bell fouled out jumping over Joe Reidy’s back for a rebound. Reidy hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 47.
Reidy missed the second free throw, but Knapke had to jump out of bounds to grab the stray rebound, forcing him to throw the ball away right into the hands of Bayman, who’s spin move layup finally gave Woodlan the lead at 49-47. Then it was Heritage’s Parker Tracey who scrapped out back to back baskets and his five points, culminating with a three pointer in front of the Patriot bench, had the gym exploding.
Woodlan got a final chance when Tracey missed a pair of free throws with 24.4 seconds left, but Mendenhall could hit his three point attempt.
That set up Knapke for his game clinching free throws with seven seconds left. Woodlan tried to ice him after the first make, but Knapke came out of the Warrior timeout and calmly knocked down the second. As it turns out, that second free throw, which gave Heritage a four point lead, was very crucial as Wiedenhoeft hit a three pointer as time expired.
Burton led Heritage with 14 points while Bayman had a game high 19 points for Woodlan.
The Patriots will play Adams Central on Saturday night at South Adams High School in the finals of the ACAC Tournament. Heritage will be seeking their sixth ACAC Tournament title and their first repeat after winning the tournament last season. Adams Central has won lone ACAC Tournament title, which came in 1976.
“We are pumped, this is our third year getting there, we are trying to make history for the school,” Knapke said. “We love it. We are all excited. We are all bought in. We’re ready to go.”
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