PARK HILLS – Farmington junior Tyler Herzog entered the game for the first time with 2.3 seconds remaining, and sank the first of two free throws to lift his team past rival North County for the 14th straight time.
His second attempt bounced high off the rim, and Jackson Schrum protected the offensive rebound as time expired to cap a 51-50 semifinal victory at the Central Christmas Tournament.
Herzog was a sudden replacement for Bryce Sancegraw, who left the action after being hammered to the floor on a layup attempt while driving into the crowded lane.
No. 3 Farmington (5-4) advanced to a rematch of last year’s championship pairing against top-seeded Hillsboro on Saturday. The Knights are seeking a second consecutive title following a 49-45 triumph last December.
Second-seeded North County (8-3) will face Central in the third-place game earlier on Saturday. The Rebels look to defend the bronze after breezing past De Soto 70-39 last year.
The Knights survived five lead changes throughout the fourth quarter with consistency from the foul line. Tycen Gray, who paced Farmington with 25 points, made 10-of-16 free throws in the win.
Farmington went 18-of-28 at the stripe, while North County ended 11-of-15.
Sancegraw contributed eight points for the Knights, and Brendon Hardy posted all eight of his points in the first half.
Hayden Sprenkel finished with 11 of his game-high 28 points for the Raiders during a powerful third quarter. Isiah Poirrier notched 11 points and six rebounds in the loss.
Farmington attempted to hold the ball with a 48-46 edge during the final two minutes of play, but North County fouled Sancegraw with just more than a minute remaining. He missed both foul shots, but intercepted a perimeter pass and hit a transition layup to create a 50-46 advantage with 50 seconds on the clock.
Sprenkel sank two free throws on the next possession, then evened the score at 50-50 with an aggressive layup for North County with 10 seconds left after Hardy committed a back-court violation.
Farmington capitalized early on multiple North County turnovers, and gained a 14-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter behind a fast-paced attack.
The Raiders improved their passing and defense to stay close during the second period, and brought the score within 21-17 midway through the quarter on a transition 3-pointer by Sprenkel.
Poirrier poked the ball lose near midcourt, but missed a layup as time expired at the break to keep the spread at 24-19.
North County captured its first lead with four minutes remaining the third quarter at 33-30 on a Kolten Poorman 3-pointer. Poirrier and Sprenkel had previously combined to notch the first 10 points of the half for the Raiders.
North County executed a 22-8 run to enter the final quarter with a 41-32 lead. Farmington responded with a 14-3 run.
Hillsboro 73, Central 36
PARK HILLS – Hillsboro accelerated to a dominant advantage early against Central, and continued an aggressive attack to enter the Central Christmas Tournament final for the second straight year.
The Hawks began on a 7-0 stretch, and ended the first quarter on a 10-0 run to achieve a 22-5 lead. They relied on strong post play to widen the margin and defeat the Rebels 73-36.
Hillsboro (13-0) previously defeated the Rebels 76-64 in the championship contest of its home Gene Steighorst Tournament earlier this month.
Hillsboro will attempt to redeem itself after last season’s loss to Farmington in the title contest on Saturday. No. 4 Central (6-4) will play North County in the third-place match.
Michael Brewer recorded 12 of his 17 points for the Hawks in the first half to help create the early advantage. Gaven Pinkley remained consistent throughout to notch a game-high 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Will Hopkins paced the Rebels with 13 points and five rebounds. He recorded all of his points from the post or foul line despite facing a notable size disadvantage.
Breven McMullen added all 10 of his points during the first half in the loss.
Central attempted to chip away during the second half with a patient offense, but failed to convert enough of its chances to offset the potent Hillsboro attack.
The Hawks claimed a 43-21 lead at halftime after Brent Wagner and Trey Craig exchanged 3-pointers with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Ben Lampkins finished with 10 points for Hillsboro, and Austin Fleming added eight during the fourth quarter.