by Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
HOWARDS GROVE – Blake Pedrin at the buzzer … swish!
Just like that, the Howards Grove senior’s last-second, controversial shot lifted the boys basketball team to a 48-46 victory over visiting Sheboygan Lutheran Saturday night in the championship game of the Big East Conference Tournament.
“I looked up and there was 0.5 seconds left and I just let it go,” he said.
But did Pedrin get the shot off in time?
“I was too busy watching him, I didn’t see the time,” Howards Grove coach Wade Georgeff said. “I don’t know, a lot of people were saying it wasn’t. I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t looking at the clock.”
Lutheran coach Nick Verhagen was, and more than once.
Not only did he think Pedrin’s shot was taken after the buzzer, but felt the clock did not start in time at the start of the play.
“It’s hard,” Verhagen said. “The referees told me they can’t (take) time (off) the clock, but why do we have to allow the shot is, I guess, the main question that we had there. But I think everybody acknowledged afterward that (the clock) didn’t start on time and the shot wasn’t off on time.
“It’s just unfortunate that a really, really good high school game had to end in controversy. Both teams were at the top of their conference, it was a great, competitive game for the players, the coaches, the fans, and it just ended in some controversy, which is too bad.”
Howards Grove, ranked third in the Division 4 state coaches’ poll, and Lutheran, No. 1 in Division 5, shared the Big East regular-season title with Oostburg and then settled the score in the tournament.
Lutheran (19-2), which lost to the Flying Dutchmen in the final game of the league season, beat them in the tournament semifinals.
Howards Grove avenged its only loss of the season, to Lutheran by nine points on Dec. 8, by winning its 14th game in a row to improve to 19-1.
Lutheran was ahead, 45-43, when Jacob Ognacevic missed the front-end of a bonus free throw with 49 seconds to go.
After a three-pointer from the left wing from Will Rautmann gave Howards Grove a 46-45 lead with 21 seconds left, the Crusaders’ Graden Grabowski was fouled with 4.8 seconds remaining.
He made the first free throw to tie the score and then his coach called time out.
But did that decision ice Grabowski?
“I wasn’t surprised and I saw it coming, because I thought (coach) would tell us something about the next play,” Grabowski said. “They still had time, so I saw it coming because we were going to foul them right away or press them at least.”
However, Grabowski missed the free throw but the rebound went to Ognacevic along the right baseline.
He bobbled it a bit and put up an off-balance shot that turned out to be an airball.
“(The free throw) dunked right off the rim,” Grabowski said. “Jacob got it and I thought he got fouled. They got it and I looked up and the clock was still 4.8 and (Pedrin) was at halfcourt, so I thought there was something wrong with the clock, I don’t know. Then he shot it and it was over.”
Pedrin caught the missed shot by Ognacevic, drove past two defenders to halfcourt and let off a wild, one-handed shot attempt at the three-point line in front of his bench that went in as the horn sounded.
Teammates immediately surrounded Pedrin and shortly after students the same as everyone jumped and celebrated on the court.
“The feeling is unreal,” Pedrin said. “I can’t even describe it.”
Balwin finished with 14 points to lead Howards Grove, and also held Ognacevic to just 16 points – he averages 30 per game – as he was the one to primarily guard him.
“We had good team defense all along,” Baldwin said. “My plan was to just play physical, do the best that I could and make sure guys were on help-side, and that helped a lot.”
It also helped that the Tigers sank 11 three-pointers.
“They give you a lot of open looks from the outside,” Georgeff said. “The first time around, we just didn’t make them. So this time around, we made a lot more. And it came from a lot more than one person this time. It was a collective effort by a lot of people. It was good to see these guys do that.”