PARK HILLS – An invigorated partisan crowd barely had time to catch its collective breath when Brant Gray landed another resounding shot to the gut on Monday night.
The Farmington boys basketball team claimed its ninth Central Christmas Tournament championship and second in three years against unrelenting challenger South Iron.
Brant Gray finished with 20 points, senior forward Tycen Gray compiled 17 points with 14 rebounds, and the top-seeded Knights prevailed 66-62 in a highly anticipated and intense title clash.
The Knights (8-1) won their first three tournament games by an average of 47 points, but were pushed to the final possession in a classic battle between the largest and smallest schools in the field.
Outnumbered in official student enrollment by a ratio greater than 14 to 1, the young but explosive Panthers (11-1) were backed by massive support from the capacity gathering.
South Iron trailed 35-22 in the second quarter, but surged ahead 42-41 following a go-ahead 3-pointer by freshman Drenin Dinkins that capped a pivotal 10-0 run and induced a deafening roar.
“Our players knew they weren’t going to be crowd favorites from the start,” said Farmington head coach Terry Noble. “But I think that only motivated them later on. It was definitely a tough environment.”
The drama only increased from there, and culminated in a riveting exchange down the stretch between sophomores Brock Wakefield and Brant Gray.
Farmington overcame a total of 21 turnovers, including two in a row while electing to stall with a two-point lead. South Iron committed only 10.
Wakefield buried a long 3-pointer from the right wing for a 57-56 edge. Knights guard Bryce Sancegraw promptly pushed the tempo, and found Gray open in the right corner for the answer.
Wakefield finished a stellar effort with 32 points, and attacked off the dribble just a few seconds later for a tying layup. But the Panthers paid dearly again at the defensive end.
Gray drilled another triple from the identical spot without hesitation – his sixth of the contest – and Farmington would not relinquish the 60-57 advantage that resulted with 1:52 to play.
Sancegraw hit two free throws after South Iron missed twice at the doorstep. Wakefield left a potential tying three long, and Tycen Gray split twice at the stripe after converting his previous six attempts.
Cole Laurence provided 14 points and nine rebounds in the victory. Cole Gerstenberger chipped in 10 points, and Sancegraw dished out seven assists.
“I think our guys really answered the bell,” Noble said. “When South Iron took the lead and the place exploded, a lot of kids could have folded right there. And it did take a minute to adjust, but we finally calmed down and hit some big shots when we needed them.”
South Iron likewise eased its way through the bracket to reach the main event. A dominant semifinal triumph over Hillsboro only lured more otherwise neutral fans into its corner.
But the Knights created a matchup problem with their significant size advantage along the post, and feasted on second-chance baskets throughout the first half.
Laurence gathered an offensive rebound to break a 10-10 tie, and Tycen Gray sprinted down the floor to finish a transition feed from Gerstenberger after blocking a shot near the opposite foul line.
Gerstenberger finished an ensuing baseline drive after scoring an easy putback, and Tycen Gray added another basket in the lane off an initial miss for a 33-20 Farmington lead.
Wakefield marked a key momentum shift with an individual 8-0 run on a 3-point play, runner off the glass and 22-footer from straight away.
A missed layup at the buzzer kept the South Iron halftime deficit at 39-32, but its strongest outburst would soon develop on the strength of excellent full-court defense.
Austin Ruble hit a 3-pointer, and was fouled after stripping the ball from Tycen Gray along the midcourt sideline. Wakefield nailed a jumper from the left elbow before Dinkins connected off another steal.
“One thing I noticed about them all week was that they have a way of getting into passing lanes and deflecting the ball,” Noble said. “They react really well, and we couldn’t simulate that in practice.”
Five more lead changes gradually transpired before the period concluded, and Farmington moved in front 51-50 when Tycen Gray dished to Laurence for a successful bank at the buzzer.
Dinkins had 12 points after netting 30 for the Panthers in the semifinal round. His third and fourth fouls came less than 15 seconds apart, but the Knights could not fully capitalize early in the final quarter.
Brant Gray shined amid another hostile environment when the Knights needed a perimeter spark. He posted 21 points in the FCNB Tournament title win against Sullivan.
D.J. Prater chipped in eight points for South Iron, which has the next two months to prepare toward a hopeful deep run in the Class 1 playoffs.
Central 60, Ste. Genevieve 48
PARK HILLS – Central moved the basketball to produce strong results from the perimeter, and defeated Ste. Genevieve 60-48 in the boys fifth-place game at the Central Christmas Tournament.
Breven McMullen scored 11 of his game-high 24 points during the fourth quarter, and the Rebels (8-4) answered a comeback bid by the Dragons (8-4) with a clinching 16-2 run.
Brent Wagner added 16 points while draining three 3-pointers, including one from the left corner just before the third quarter expired for a 41-35 advantage.
Central opened the fourth with a driving assist from Trevor Bradley to Cade Scherffius, and McMullen sank his team’s ninth triple of the game moments later.
The Rebels achieved their largest lead at 54-37 in a contest where each club committed six turnovers and combined for a perfect 8-of-8 from the line.
Ste. Genevieve picked up the first points of the game when senior Derek Morganthaler struck from the outside, but that shot represented its lone lead.
Central executed a crisp offense from the outset, and capped the first quarter with a solid 19-5 edge after five different players notched a 3-pointer.
Christian Boyer snapped a five-minute drought for the Dragons with a conventional 3-point play, but they trailed 32-15 after yielding open threes to Wagner and Jake Casey.
Morganthaler netted 14 points while Chad Donze and Logan Trollinger each had 12 for Ste. Genevieve, which started to rally on a 6-0 spurt to close the half.
Donze followed Trollinger with consecutive 3-pointers to bring the Dragons within 38-35 with 1:58 to play in third quarter, but could not slow McMullen down the stretch.
Central emerged with a third victory in the tournament to finish where it was seeded. The teams are scheduled for a conference meeting on Jan. 18.