By Josh Brown
and Kyle Shaner
CLAYTON — Before leaving for Saturday’s Division III sectional title game against Versailles, Miami East’s Damien Mackesy was the last person onto the bus — because he was putting up just a couple more practice free throws.
“We’re getting ready to leave, and I look back into the gym and he’s taking two more free throws before getting onto the bus,” Miami East boys basketball coach Allen Mack said. “How fitting is that?”
With the score tied in the closing seconds, Mackesy drew a foul and hit both free throws to give the Vikings a two-point lead with 2.7 seconds remaining, and Versailles turned the ball over on the ensuing in-bounds play as Miami East won a back-and-forth battle in stunning fashion, 51-49 Saturday night at Northmont High School.
Versailles coach Scott McEldowney didn’t agree with the way the game ended.
“To let the game be decided on a foul that was very minimal at the end of the game is a bunch of crap,” McEldowney said. “I don’t understand that one. I mean he decided that game at the end on a very marginal call. I’d have to see the tape but I don’t see nearly enough contact to put somebody on the line at the end of the game like that.”
Mackesy broke a 24-year-old school record for the Vikings (21-4), setting a new mark for free throws made in a season with his first make of the day. He ended up going a perfect 10 for 10 from the line on the day, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead the way.
“To start the tournament in our first couple games, I was shooting terrible from the free throw line,” Mackesy said. “We knew they (Versailles) play tough, so I figured we might get some foul calls and it’s be important. It never hurts to put a couple more practice shots up.”
“He came in one free throw away from the school record, and he went 10 for 10 — none bigger than those last two,” Mack said. “He was able to execute on that last play and do exactly what we told him to do: get to the lane, hard pump fake and get to the line.”
The lead changed hands a whopping 14 times in the game to go along with two ties, including six lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. The next-to-last one came with less than two minutes to go after Justin Ahrens hit his fourth 3 of the game to give the Tigers (18-7) a 49-47 lead. Mackesy hit a short jumper to tie the score with 1:20 to play, then Michael Werling altered a Versailles shot on the defensive end and Mackesy grabbed the rebound with 11.8 seconds to go.
Miami East called one last timeout with 7.3 seconds on the clock to set up the final play. Mackesy caught the in-bounds pass, drove around the defense and to the very edge of the paint, pulled up for a jumper and was hit going up by a pair of defenders with 2.7 seconds left. He casually buried the first free throw, then he sank the second after a timeout to give the Vikings a 51-49 lead.
“Oh, I felt it,” Mackesy said of the high-pressure situation. “But once you’re there, muscle memory just kicks in.”
Versailles tried to set up one final desperation in-bounds play, but the Tiger on the receiving end couldn’t catch the pass and it rolled out of bounds, giving East the ball with barely more than a second left. The Vikings got the ball in, and time expired.
“A lot of people expected this type of game when Versailles jumped into our bracket,” Mack said. “It was just a battle from start to finish. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys. We haven’t ran into many games like that, and I’m really proud of the way they were making plays and executed in the fourth quarter.”
“It kind of put a chip on our shoulder, them coming in with us,” Mackesy said of the draw. “We were the No. 2 seed and they were No. 3, and of all the places they could’ve gone, they came into our bracket. But I couldn’t be more proud of my team. We all played well, and we played together.”
Logan West had eight of his 14 points in the first half, added six rebounds and was solid inside throughout the day for the Vikings. Braxton Donaldson came off the bench to score five points — including hitting a 3-pointer late in the first half that gave East a 33-32 lead at the time. Ryan Haney added five points and three assists, Brandon Mack scored three points and Werling had two points.
“That was a big shot for us by Braxton at a big time,” Mack said of Donaldson’s 3 before the half. “It was a big change of momentum for us. And while we didn’t completely shut down Justin Ahrens, didn’t run a box-and-one on him, we did stretch our zone his direction.”
Ahrens finished with 20 points to lead the Tigers, with Brett McEldowney added 14 points and hitting four 3s of his own. Austin Knapke, Keaton McEldowney and A.J. Ahrens each added five points as Versailles hit seven 3s in the first half — but only two in the second.
“To be able to hold an explosive offense like that to only 17 points in the second half, it definitely was impressive,” Mack said. “Early on, they were able to move the ball and get a lot of kids involved, but we held them to only five field goals in the second half.”
McEldowney felt like foul trouble caught up with the Tigers.
“We shot the ball pretty well, especially (Brett McEldowney), and felt like we really could have extended that lead,” McEldowney said about the first half. “We just got into foul trouble. We felt like, with the lead, things were still going OK. We rested those kids, and they were able to climb right back in it before half instead of us going on a little more run and maybe putting the game away.”
Miami East advanced to the district final Tuesday night at UD Arena, where the Vikings will face Summit Country Day, a 76-59 winner over North College Hill.