By PATRICK SLACK
Melrose Area had two possessions in the final 90 seconds of Saturday’s Sub-Section 6AA North semifinal boys basketball game at St. John’s University.
Trailing 73-71 with less than two minutes to play in regulation, Pierz junior Jess Kasper twisted, turned and banked a circus shot off the glass and in to tie Saturday’s Sub-Section 6AA North boys basketball game.
After that, the Pioneers didn’t look back, scrapping, clawing and ultimately denying the Dutchmen any opportunity to take back the lead, earning an 82-76 overtime win in a game that had 20 lead changes.
On Melrose Area’s final two possessions of regulation, the Pioneers did not allow the Dutchmen to get off a potential go-ahead shot, forcing a jump ball with 1:31 to play before junior Cullin Carter dove to the court to snare a steal with 29 seconds to go.
Pierz couldn’t put the game away in regulation, but would not be denied in the four-minute extra session.
Kasper continued to have the hot hand in overtime, scoring the first four points for Pierz, the final two coming on a left-handed hook shot with 2:02 to play that put the Pioneers ahead for good.
Melrose drew a foul 10 seconds later and hit the first free throw to pull within one, but missed the second.
The score would hold at 77-76 for the next minute until Carter sank a free throw with 43.9 seconds to play to put Pierz up by two.
The Dutchmen called a time out and had an open look from the corner to tie, but the shot rolled around the rim and went out and Kasper seized the rebound and was immediately fouled.
Kasper’s first free throw attempt rattled around the rim before sinking through the net, before his second was swished home, extending the lead to two possessions with 28 seconds to go.
Melrose missed again on its ensuing trip down the court, Kasper again pulled down the rebound, found junior Josh Templin on an outlet pass who dished out an assist to senior Caleb Janson to put the exclamation point on the dramatic victory.
Janson finished with 22 points to lead Pierz and senior Preston Weber had 21, the final three coming on a game-tying shot with 2:21 to play after another three just a minute prior that helped erase a late four-point Melrose lead.
Kasper ended with 20 points.
Pierz gained control early in the game with a 13-6 lead in the opening minutes, but after a Melrose basket, neither team would lead by more than five until the end of the game.
“This was a classic battle against a very good basketball team,” Pierz head coach Danny Saehr said. “I am so proud of the effort and heart we played with tonight.”
The Pioneers will return to St. John’s to take on Long Prairie-Grey Eagle for a spot in the section finals Tuesday at 7:45 p.m.
Pierz 82, Melrose Area 76 (OT)
Pierz 34 39 9 – 82
Melrose 33 40 3 – 76
Pierz—Caleb Janson, 22 (9 rebounds, 3 assists); Preston Weber, 21; Jess Kasper, 20 (10 rebounds); Cullin Carter, 8 (8 rebounds); Logan Meyer, 6 (5 rebounds, 5 assists); Josh Templin, 3; Mitch Bednar, 2.