The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
That certainly was the case Saturday night at Borgia in the boys championship game of the Class 4 District 9 Basketball Tournament between the top two seeds, Pacific and Borgia.
Most, if not all, of the folks in Ray DeGreeff Memorial Gymnasium thought the Indians had the game won.
But like they have so many times before, the Knights found a way to win.
Trailing by three points in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, sophomore Walton Eckelkamp drilled a three-pointer from at least 25 feet away at the buzzer. Nothing but net.
The game went into overtime, where Borgia won, 69-66.
Playing on their home court in front of a packed house, it was the thrill of victory for the Knights, who play Marshfield Wednesday in the Class 4 sectional round.
And it was the agony of defeat for the Indians, who were looking for their first district championship since 1982.
“It was tough to deal with,” said Pacific senior Jeffrey Hinkle. “I know in the long run, it’s going to make us better people. It taught us how to deal with adversity.”
You can’t help but feel bad for John VanLeer, who was seconds away from winning his first district championship in 21 seasons as Pacific’s head coach.
Meanwhile, it was the sixth straight district championship for Dave Neier’s Knights, who have built one of the top basketball programs in Missouri.
“I got about an hour of sleep Saturday night. It’s rough. It’s easier now than it would have been 10 years ago. I think I can put things in perspective a little better,” VanLeer said Monday morning. “We had a great season. It still hurts. You second-guess yourself for not fouling in that situation (Eckelkamp’s buzzer beater). Things happen for a reason. It’s tough. It’s going to make us hungry. If the kids continue to put the time in, next year we can be as good as we were this year and possibly better.”
While Borgia has one of the best programs in Missouri, Pacific junior Cullen VanLeer proved to be one of the best players in the state.
VanLeer had a great district tournament, scoring 56 points in the Indians’ two games.
After a scoreless first half, VanLeer put on a show with 26 points in the second half and overtime.
So how did Cullen VanLeer deal with the Borgia loss? He played golf Sunday at Franklin County Country Club. He’s also one of the best high school golfers in the area.
“It was his first time out this year and he shot a 78,” said a proud John VanLeer, Cullen’s father and coach.
It’s already been a crazy March in high school basketball.
We’ve seen a pair of dramatic buzzer-beaters by sophomores Eckelkamp and Paige Carpenter of the Washington Lady Jays, both of which led to district championships for their respective teams.
St. Clair freshman Gavin Marler nearly hit a three-pointer in the final seconds against Pacific in the district semifinals, which likely would have given the Bulldogs a huge upset victory.
“It was halfway down,” St. Clair Coach Casey Korn said of Marler’s shot.
No team in the area got better during the season more than the St. Clair Bulldogs.
Speaking of three-pointers, it was scary how well Washington’s boys were shooting them at the end of the season.
To hit 46 three-pointers in a three-game span, including 14 in one half against Rolla, is ridiculous.
The Borgia and Hermann girls have followed up state championship volleyball seasons with tremendous basketball campaigns.
I know there are a few different girls involved, but it’s obvious that both schools have tremendous female athletes.
Borgia lost its first game of the season to Cor Jesu and later lost to a strong one-loss Eureka squad.
I find it interesting that Borgia and Washington could very well run into the two best girls teams in Missouri during the playoffs.
We know Washington plays Rock Bridge Wednesday in Class 5 sectional action. The Lady Jays also have had a great season.
With two more wins, Borgia likely will meet Incarnate Word in the Class 4 state semifinals.
Rock Bridge and Incarnate Word both are nationally ranked and the favorites to win the Class 5 and Class 4 state championships, respectively.
Hermann’s lone loss came against a very good St. James squad. You have to think the Lady Bearcats have a good chance of celebrating a Class 3 state title Saturday night.
New Haven’s girls are going to the state tournament for the third straight season. The Lady Shamrocks have finished second in Class 2 in each of the last two seasons and are determined to complete the job this weekend.
“We’re really blessed. Three years in a row,” said New Haven senior Rachel Steinhoff. “We have the best coaches and teammates. Our crowd always is amazing. We’re really grateful to have the chance to be back.”
Five of the eight teams that played in the Union Girls Tournament won district titles. They are Borgia, Washington, Eureka, St. Charles West and Helias.
In the boys playoffs, an eight-win Troy squad is in while two very good teams, Chaminade and Duchesne, are out.