SACRAMENTO – A whirlwind of swings and emotion sent the Division III boys' basketball state championship game to overtime, but it only delayed the heartbreak that is all too familiar to Sacred Heart Cathedral.
In the final 30 seconds of regulation against St. Augustine of San Diego, the Irish went from looking like sure losers to a sure winner in a matter of seconds, then a crucial mistake sent the game to overtime, where the Saints prevailed in a 59-52 win Friday at Sleep Train Arena.
The extra period was largely uneventful, but the final seconds were packed with pendular swings.
With the Irish down 44-40, sophomore guard David Parsons nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the lead to a single point with 17 seconds left.
Sacred Heart (21-12) immediately followed the made basket with a timeout and St. Augustine (29-4) struggled to get the ball inbounds, forcing the Saints to take a time out of their own. Coming out of the second timeout, St. Augustine struggled again to get the ball in play safely and turned the ball over on a 5-second violation.
With the ball under the basket, the Irish ran a set play and found forward Liam O'Reilly alone on the baseline. The junior nailed the open jump shot to give the Irish their first lead of the second half, but that was only the beginning of the writhing twists.
Parsons stole the ensuing inbound pass, was immediately fouled by St. Augustine and drained both free throws to give the Irish what appeared to be a relatively-safe three-point lead with 10 seconds left.
Needing a 3-pointer to tie the game, St. Augustine got the ball to Trey Kell on the perimeter. As desperate, last-second shots go, Kell's look on the left wing was a quality one, but O'Reilly closed in on the shooter – he just closed too far.
As Kell released the shot with 2 seconds left, O'Reilly contacted the shooter on the arm and with his body. The shot missed, but a foul was called and Kell went to the line for three free throws and a chance to tie the game.
Kell, who scored more than half of the Saints' points with a game-high 30 to go along with 11 rebounds, calmly made all three to send the game to overtime.
"If he doesn't get fouled, he might stick it, so I think we're going to get a good look for Trey," said St. Augustine coach Mike Haupt. "He didn't make it, but he made his free throws."
The loss is the second in as many years for the Irish in the Division III state title game.
"It's disappointing, because you think you have one," said Sacred Heart coach Darrell Barbour. "The mistakes we made were uncharacteristic of our team and how we play. … We broke down, and against a good team, they'll make you pay."
The hectic final moments weren't all that went into the Irish comeback.
Sacred Heart Cathedral trailed for almost all of the game, but Herman Pratt took over in the second half to keep the Irish alive. The senior guard scored all of his team-high 17 points in the second half and overtime, including 10 of Sacred Heart's 14 points in the third quarter.
Pratt also locked down UC Davis-bound St. Augustine guard Brynton Lemar on the defensive end. Lemar had just six points in regulation after scoring a team-high 24 points in the Southern California title game a week prior.
"Sometimes people miss the boat with Herman," Barbour said. "With how hard he plays and how he defends, he's also a skilled offensive player. … When you get a player playing like that, he's just beautiful to watch."
Pratt's final basket, a 3-pointer with 2:08 left in overtime, tied the game up at 52-52 after the Saints scored the first five points of the extra period, but the Irish magic ran out and St. Augustine scored the final seven points of the game.
"What more can you ask for?" Barbour said. "We didn't quit. We played hard, but the emotions were crazy. … It was fun to be a part of. It really was."