By Jason Herd
For the Pharos-Tribune
Things seemed to be set up for the Caston boys basketball team after drawing the bye and hosting Sectional 50 for the first time in 11 years.
After all, the Comets had gone 11-1 on their home floor, with their only loss to Class 4A Lowell in the Caston Shootout.
A chance to avenge their 13-point loss to Tri-County seemed inevitable. The Comets went on a torrid 20-0 run in that game to take the lead, only to squander opportunities down the stretch. The Cavaliers had ended Caston’s season four times in the sectional since the class system was introduced in 1998. This time it was going to be different, or so it seemed.
Friday’s sectional semifinal between Caston and Tri-County had it all: the atmosphere, the noise and many exciting moments. But unfortunately for Caston fans, the only thing that lacked was the final score.
Tri-County weathered strong second and third period runs by the Comets and overtook the host team in the final period for a 53-42 victory.
An apprehensive start saw the first points scored at the 2:43 mark of the first. Both teams seemed to be sizing each other up for the first five minutes. Dane Hardebeck’s 3 at the buzzer gave Tri-County the 11-4 advantage after one.
Dustin Offenberger opened the second quarter with a 3 from the corner, followed by a Quentin Douglass jumper. After a Kyle Miller 3 quieted the crown momentarily, freshman Eli Douglass ignited the Caston faithful with consecutive bombs to give the Comets their first lead at the 5:22 mark.
It was clear that both teams had their defensive strategies in full force. Alex Howdeshell drew the assignment of guarding the Cavaliers’ versatile senior Zack Patton and performed admirably for most of the game. Conversely, the Cavaliers’ 1-3-1 zone limited Caston’s penetration and forced a perimeter attack. It certainly worked in the quarter, as Offenberger connected again from deep. He finished with 11 points in the game. After two Patton free throws, Douglass found a seam in the zone and scored with 1:53 to give Caston a 22-20 lead at half.
A somewhat fluid second quarter was followed by a patient third, as both teams went to their seniors when it counted most. Douglass and Patton carried the load for both squads. Turnovers began to show up for the Comets at the most crucial times. But, Caston clung to a 29-25 lead going into the final period.
Junior Elijah Legler drained a 3, which propelled a key 10-0 run for Tri-County to start the fourth. Patton began to take over, as he scored on the and-one to take a 32-29 lead at the 6:37 mark. Miller followed with a 3-point dagger to extend the lead shortly after.
Poised to make their final stand, Douglass went to work, finding Offenberger underneath for a layup. Douglass drove the lane and scored on the and-one, then drained a 3 from the key to tie the game at 37-37 with 3:46 to go. The senior dynamo finished with 20 points for Caston.
Several costly, unforced turnovers hurt Caston however, and a big one took place with three minutes to play. After rebounding a missed Hardebeck layup, Offenberger was called for a travel which gave Tri-County another opportunity. Miller took advantage, drilling a 3 with 2:53 to play and taking the momentum with him. The senior finished with 16 points.
The Cavaliers continued to go to Patton with the game on the line, and he answered the call by scoring 14 second half points en route to a game-high 23 points.
Solid in all facets, Tri-County simply took care of the ball better down the stretch. At several key moments in the game with the lead, Caston squandered crucial opportunities with frustrating turnovers.
“The turnovers obviously killed us tonight, and I don’t have an explanation for it,” Caston coach J.R. Howell said. “We started the fourth quarter with four straight turnovers which saw our lead turn into a six-point deficit. We just stalled when they went into their 1-3-1 zone and I’m not sure why. We competed hard, but we made silly, unforced mistakes, and they made us pay for them.”
The Cavaliers (16-6) will face North White (15-8) for the sectional championship tonight. The Comets finish 12-10.