Centauri senior Justin Gallegos hit three key free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining in regulation to tie Friday night's contest and send it into overtime.
Courier Sports Editor
LA JARA—Free throws. They are not the most thought about play in basketball, nor are they worth the most points but Friday night free throws had a standing-room only crowd at Centauri Middle School nibbling on their finger nails all night.
A divided gym filled with Sanford Green and Centauri Red cheered emphatically for 40 minutes before the Indians defeat the Falcons 64-61 in double overtime. The battle between the two Conejos County schools is probably the biggest rivalry in the San Luis Valley. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they have not defeated the Indians in ten years (2003). The Indians claimed a 1-point victory in last year’s defensive battle.
The game that came down to the aforementioned free throws really became a contest with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
With the Indians leading 46-44, Sanford freshman Chance Canty drove to the bucket for a layup. He sunk the bucket but a blocking foul was called on sophomore KC Jarvies to send him to the line for a free throw. He was able to covert on the 3-point play to extend their lead to 49-44.
Falcon sophomore Tyler Bechaver was able to close the game to 49-46 after getting a rebound and put back with ten seconds remaining.
The Falcons, who had called a timeout, quickly made a foul to stop the clock with 7.2 seconds showing. Sanford freshman Miles Caldon had an opportunity to seal the game but a ruckus home crowd played its part.
“It was just so loud couldn’t hear yourself,” said Caldon after the game. “Everyone was screaming and I was already nervous coming into the game. It’s tough when everyone is watching you and your only a freshman.”
As Caldon took his two shots, they clung off the iron and they didn’t score. Falcon senior Justin Gallegos took control and rushed down the court and found himself taking a buzzer-beating 3-point shot. The shot did not go, but as he was releasing the ball, Indian sophomore Dustin Faucette ran into Gallegos forcing him to the ground and a foul was called. The clock showed two-tenths of a second showing when Gallegos made it to the free throw line. He took his three shots and sunk all three, each one bringing louder cheers and applause from the red-clad sea of crowd members on the south side of the gym.
The game was tied at 49 forcing an additional four minutes to be added to the game. Like regulation, Sanford controlled the first overtime period early by jumping out to a 54-51 lead.
The Falcons did as much as they could to battle back into the game, however, Canty made his defensive presence known by swatting two shots out of play with authority. Sophomore Mitchell Wilson made the game a 1-point contest, 54-53 after he buried a field goal before turnovers had fans pulling at their hair.
Gallegos became the Falcon’s hero once again as he was fouled with 12.4 seconds showing on the clock. He easily made the first of two free throws to tie the game at 54 prompting Indian Head Coach Rhett Larsen to call a timeout. The break was enough to ice the hot hand of Gallegos as his second free throw hit the back of the rim and into the hands of several fumbling rebounders to send the game into its second overtime.
The second overtime was rough for the Falcons as their key 3-point sharpshooter, Bechaver went down with an apparent knee injury with just over a minute and a half left in the period.
Caldon redeemed himself by scoring four points in the final four minutes including two free throws to seal the game with 1:06 showing on the clock. “My focus changed, I knew I had to hit those. I had to block out the crowd and put them in,” Caldon said. “It’s the greatest feeling you can ever have, it is unbelievable, and you feel on top of the world to hit the free throws to win.”
As a team, Sanford connected on 19-of-33 (58 percent) free throw attempts while Centauri hit 13-of-24 (54 percent) of their shots.
The Indians out-played the Falcons on the boards by gathering 53 rebounds. Centauri only tallied 37 boards.
“We made them (free throws) when we needed to, but we missed plenty to start with,” said Larsen after the game. “We had a couple of runs where got up on them but they battled back and got back into the game, it was a good game. It’s good to win for sure.”
“It’s about the experience to get better,” explained Larsen. “These two teams went at it hard and it’s a great game to have to get the experience of being in a tight game.”
“It was a good game, both teams played hard more than anything,” said Centauri Head Coach Brandon Sanchez after the contest. “It’s a big game to be a part of. We got to do a better job, we fouled them 40-feet from the line and we weren’t making them beat us. That really hurt us, in a game like that it is any little thing.”
Canty lead the team with his third double-double of the season, according to media statistics. Canty scored a game-high 18 points and 15 rebounds. Calder Larsen scored 13 points and gathered nine rebounds while Brett Crowther scored 11 points and nine rebounds.
Caldon scored seven points on the night. “It feels good to have two good freshmen who contributed to the victory,” said Caldon of Friday night’s win. "Chance had a lot of rebounds and feels good to have someone who you will have three years left to play with.”
The Indians, who improve to 6-1 overall, will not have much time to rebound from the battle as they battle their third Class 3A school in as many games. The Indians will play the fourth Intermountain League team on their schedule, Alamosa, on Saturday night. Tip-off for the boys game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a big game because of the experience we get to play a quality opponent,” said Larsen of Saturday night’s matchup. “It’s about getting better at this time, get us ready for league play which is what we really have to be sharp for, we have things we have to do better.”
Centauri will be the Mean Moose’s opponent following their contest with the Indians. The two teams will open league action next Friday before they take on Pagosa Springs on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a lot like tonight,” said Sanchez of next week’s schedule. “Pagosa Springs has been up at the state tournament. There are definitely things we need to make improvement on, we need to find a way to put four quarters together from her on out.”