HARBOR BEACH — Harbor Beach coach Ron Wruble’s confidence in freshman point guard Eli Kraft never waned.
Even after Kraft missed the first of two foul shots with 1.7 seconds to play in a tie game here Saturday afternoon in the Class C district championship between the Pirates and Unionville-Sebewaing Area, Wruble knew Kraft was going to come through.
“He was going to stick it — he was going to shoot it with confidence,” Wruble said. “I don’t think missing the first one mattered to him.”
Wruble was right. Kraft knocked in the second free throw, giving the Pirates their second straight district title and making for the winning margin in their thrilling 39-38 decision over the Patriots.
“Really, any of the five guys we had on the floor at that time, we would have been just as comfortable,” Wruble said. “Eli, for a freshman... He’s so mentally tough.”
While Kraft’s free throw — and USA’s unsuccessful last-gasp attempt from midcourt — sent Harbor Beach’s fans into a frenzy, it was simply a stunning end for the Patriots, who thought the foul on Kraft should have been a non-shooting foul — or not a foul at all.
“When we tied it up we decided we were going to break down the last 30 seconds into intervals,” said USA coach Mark Gainforth, whose team had several fouls to burn in the final minutes before the Pirates were in the bonus. “We were kind of arm-barring him the whole time trying to get a call earlier before he was shooting...”
Nevertheless, Kraft drove into the lane and threw up a wild shot as the whistle blew.
“They had so many fouls to give that I was even wondering if they would even let us dribble at all,” Wruble said. “That last time we knew that when they made contact we wanted to try to get a shot up. It worked out for us.”
USA did have its chances. The Patriots led by six with 4:50 left, and were in the double bonus with 3:38 to play. The problem? They hit on just 6-of-13 free throws in the deciding fourth quarter.
“We had opportunities the whole fourth quarter to put the game away, but we didn’t,” Gainforth said. “When we’re good from the foul line, we’re really good. When we’re bad, we’re really bad.”
For Harbor Beach, Sean Sorenson dropped in 16 points, including four first-half three-pointers. Kraft added nine while Andrew Siemen netted eight, including a huge three-pointer with 1:35 to play which gave Harbor Beach a 38-37 lead.
“Actually, I think the shot of the game was Siemen’s three,” Gainforth said. “Was that a good shot? I don’t know, but he can make shots from out there. If that doesn’t go in the game might have been over.”
USA’s Jake Holland hit 1-of-2 free throws with 1:06 left to tie it at 38.
Holland led USA with a game-high 23 points while Andrew Botello and Dakota Gangler chipped in five apiece.
Harbor Beach led 10-8 after one quarter and 16-14 at the half. Sorenson had 14 of Harbor Beach’s 16 first-quarter points while Holland had 12 of USA’s 14.
“It was basically Sorenson vs. Holland in the first half,” Wruble said. “When we went man-to-man and kept switching off, Eli wound up guarding (Holland) quite a bit (in the second half). Eli’s 5-foot-10 on a good day and Holland is about 6-6. He was physical with him and actually slowed him down a little.”
USA led by as many as seven points in the third quarter, settling for a 30-25 advantage heading to the final eight minutes.
“The kids did a nice job of keeping their composure,” Wruble said. “We have been in every game this year, so that right there helped us out late in the game.”
|Harbor Beach with the Class C district championship trophy.|