With a first-round Class 5A playoff victory in reach, with separation finally achieved late in the fourth quarter of an exciting slugfest, the Chatfield Chargers blinked.
And victory disappeared.
Ahead by eight with 3:45 remaining, the Chargers gave up a 10-0 run to Montbello and bungled away their late attempts to tie or regain the lead in a 67-66 home defeat Feb. 27.
The up-and-down game had 13 lead changes and 10 times the score was knotted up. There were low turnovers on both sides, until the fourth quarter, when the Chargers coughed up the ball six times after having just 10 turnovers in the previous three quarters combined.
The Warriors (11-12), seeded ninth in the Ray Ball Region of the boys basketball state tournament, effectively won the game at the free-throw line behind freshman Isiah Cooper, who sank 4-of-6 attempts in the final 30 seconds to knock off the No. 8 Chargers (9-15).
“We started falling apart ee It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Chatfield senior Tommy Fritze said.
Battling youth and inexperience all season, the Chargers appeared to grow up each quarter against the Warriors, who came in nursing a three-game slide. Chatfield fell behind by six in the second quarter but outscored the Warriors 16-9 in the third quarter behind nine points from guard Trent Bishop.
The Chargers appeared to finally break away with a 10-0 run that turned a 49-51 deficit into a 59-51 lead, the biggest of the game by either team. Tyler Haidaris had two key layups, Bishop sank four free throws and Jordan Carter hit a short banker during the stretch that ended with 3:45 remaining.
The Warriors answered with their full-court press. It was the same press Chatfield had broken with ease earlier in the game, but the desperate Warriors made it work and tied the game just over a minute later.
It was a battle of moments. Montbello coach David Carey called it “fight or flight” for his Warriors. Chatfield coach Steve Schimpeler saw it as a growing process.
“We got caught in the moment,” Schimpeler said. “You can’t do that. You got to continue to play as you would play normally until it’s 0:00. We didn’t do that.”
The Chargers’ final possessions had a painful similarity.
With the score tied 63-63 with less than a minute remaining, Bishop came off a screen, got the ball and drove the baseline for a twisting layup that went wide. Cooper got the ball for the Warriors, was fouled and sank two free throws. Montbello 65, Chatfield 63.
Chatfield’s next possession had Bishop trying to penetrate down the right wing, but two Warriors collapsed on his defender to force a turnover. Cooper got the ball, was fouled and sank 1-of-2 free throws. Montbello 66, Chatfield 63.
Chatfield’s next possession saw Bishop move off a screen to his left and drive down the middle of the floor for a layup attempt with seven seconds remaining. Cooper got the rebound, was fouled and sank 1-of-2 attempts to make it 67-63 with 5.7 seconds remaining.
Chatfield’s final possession ended with Landon Vermeer’s 3-pointer from the baseline at the buzzer.
Bishop led the Chargers with 17 points. Haidaris scored 15 and Carter finished with 14.
Montbello 17 20 9 21 - 67
Chatfield 14 17 16 19 - 66
Montbello – Hall 6 2-2 16, Coleman 2 0-0 5, Crowder 2 1-2 6, Shabazz 3 0-0 7, Nelson 5 6-11 18, Harrison 2 0-0 4, Wilson 1 0-0 2, Cooper 2 4-9 9. Totals 23 13-24 67.
Chatfield – Bishop 4 8-9 17, Clements 0 0-0 0, Fritze 3 0-0 6, Haidaris 6 1-2 15, Slavin 1 1-4 3, Carter 6 2-2 14, Vermeer 4 0-0 9, Ta. Rogers 1 0-0 2, Wales 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 12-17 66.
3-point goals – Hall 2, Nelson 2, Coleman, Crowder, Shabazz, Cooper; Haidaris 2, Bishop, Vermeer. Total fouls – Montbello 18, Chatfield 20. Fouled out – Carter. Technicals – None.