By Jason Schock
The Falls City High School boys’ basketball team, for the first time since the United States entered World War II, are making consecutive trips to the State Basketball Tournament.
Tiger senior Weston Witt’s dribble, drive and drop, with 1.9 seconds remaining, broke a 48-48 tie and gave the State Tourney-bound Tigers a thrilling 50-48 victory over Boys Town in the Class C1-1 District Championship Monday at Nebraska City High.
Falls City, which repeats as C1-1 District Champs, returns to the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, the site of last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Wahoo in the opening round, when FC seemingly took a two-point lead with 1.5 seconds left in regulation. Another 1.2 seconds was added and the rest is history.
It’s history – Witt and the 2015 Tigers made sure of it.
Witt, who scored 19 game-high points and dished out five assists to become the school’s all-time single-season leader (breaking a record held by Max Milam since 1978), was the obvious go-to guy when FC Coach Don Hogue called time to set up the dramatic final sequence. A year ago, it was “The Red Menace” who came off the bench and torched Lincoln Christian with five three pointers on the very same hardwood in Nebraska
“We wanted the ball in his hands,” FC Coach Don Hogue said.
With the game tied at 48 and less than 10 seconds left on the clock, Witt caught the inbounds pass from sophomore Kyle Leafty (10 points, two drawn charges, seven rebounds) near the elbow, put his head down and charged to the bucket, where the Cowboys’ 6-6 senior Knowledge Darby was waiting. Darby was in position, but his massive swat drew nothing but air, while Witt manipulated his body to avoid contact, squared up and dropped the ball through the net with 1.9 seconds to go.
“It worked perfect,” Witt said. “My teammates got the ball inbounds, I got the look I wanted and it’s all a blur from there.”
“He uses his body so well,” Hogue, the winningest coach in Tiger history and architect of one of the biggest turnarounds in Nebraska high school basketball history. “Weston can create around bigger guys – he’s done it all his life.”
He’ll not likely to ever create anything bigger than that shot last night – then again…
“Now we want to win it all,” Witt told the Omaha World-Herald after the game.
Falls City last won a state championship in 1963 – it was the school’s last state title in athletics. The program didn’t win a single district game for more than three decades; now Hogue has led them back to the state tournament for the third time in five years. It’s FCHS’ first back-to-back state tourney berths since 1941.
“In 2010, it was historic because it had been so long,” Hogue said. “Then in 2014 it was nice because we didn’t go another 40-some years,” he said, jokingly. “But I think we’ve really started to make a name for ourselves and a lot of kids have been part of this thing. It hasn’t just been one group. We’re building consistency.”
Falls City proved to be the team that had “been there” when the opening tip became an 11-2 Tiger lead in fewer than three minutes and Darby, a transfer from New York City, picked up his second foul and sat the final 5 1/2 minutes of the opening period.
“We needed to play ahead,” Hogue said. “We saw some film on them and we were ready.”
Unfortunately, FC failed to capitalize on several opportunities to put the Cowboys (15-10) away. The Tigers were 3-of-9 from the line in the fourth quarter and senior Jack Hartman, the team’s leading scorer all season, was limited by foul trouble most of the second half and just as he was starting to heat up. Hartman (10 points, team-high eight rebounds, four assists) hit a bucket with 2:47 to play in the third quarter to give FC a 32-30 lead. Less than a minute later, he finished an “and 1” and FC was up five, 35-30. But Hartman drew a fourth foul less than two minutes into the fourth quarter and fouled out with 1:34 to play.
With Hartman out, FC relied on seniors Zach Jordening, sophomore Kyle Leafty and freshman Brandt Chapple to battle in the paint and they came through. Boys Town climbed back into the game by hitting the offensive glass (they got seven “do-overs” in the first half – two in the second). Leafty pulled down seven and also drew a pair of key charging calls, while Jordening and Chapple each hit big shots in the fourth quarter.
“Credit to them,” Boys Town Coach Tom Krehbiel said. “The whole game, the whole night was played at their pace, except for maybe a spot in the fourth quarter where we sped them up. Then they got their composure, and they’re a good team. They’ve very confident, and you can see why they’ve beaten a lot of teams.
“The atmosphere bothered us (more than 3-2) at the start. The kids were wide-eyed and playing soft. We kind of picked it up the middle of the first quarter, and then it was a battle. I’m proud of my guys for giving them a battle, but at the end of the day we have to figure things out better at the end of the game to win something like this in this environment.”
They also started draining threes and had some ridiculous calls go their way. The Cowboys were a collective 0-for-8 from downtown the first three periods, then drained four in the final period.
Boys Town’s last lead, 44-43, came on a three by DeAngelo Saunsoci with 4:25 left, but the Tigers nearly broke the game open shortly thereafter. Senior Jordy Stoller split a pair of free throws – his only point of the night – to tie it at 44. A Witt steal and two-pointer, followed by a Leafty steal and Witt came to the line for two. He split them to make it a three-point game with fewer than three minutes to play. Then came what could’ve been a back-breaker for Boys Town: Yet another FC steal gave the Tigers numbers and an easy fastbreak – Witt dished to Leafty for an easy lay-up to seemingly give the Tigers a five-point lead at 49-44. But the referee astoundingly called Witt for an illegal screen after he made the pass – basket was no good. Seconds later, a Cowboys three tied it at 47.
On their final possession, with the game tied at 48, Javon Hopkins came up short on a lay-in in the paint, one his coach said he makes nine times out of 10.
McKoy led Boys Town with 15 points, followed by Darby with 11.
The 22-3 Tigers are expected to be a No. 5 seed and play Columbus Scotus at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the Devaney Center.
“I think they believe there’s some unfinished business up there,” Hogue said. “I hope so, because we’re at the doorstep again. We had an opportunity last year and let it slip out of our hands. We’ll be ready.”