After four straight do or die games for the Wharton Tigers, their luck came to an end against Stafford Spartans.
The Tigers (20-8, 7-6) came from 10 points behind and battled to the final buzzer, but Spartans (30-9, 12-0) survived 58-56 Tuesday night at Butler field house.
The third and final meeting between the Tigers and Spartans was perhaps the best. In front of packed stands and a raucous crowd full of energy Wharton came close propelling themselves to the regional tournament.
Wharton's defense swarmed Stafford all four quarters and the Tigers came away with multiple blocks keeping them in the game despite an off shooting night. The Tigers defense was nearly enough Tuesday night giving them chances late, but the ball didn't bounce their way.
"Our speech at half time was chip away at it and give us an opportunity in the fourth quarter and we got that," Wharton Coach Calvin King said. "We had every chance. With a team like Stafford, they'll make you pay for any mistakes. Hat's off to them, they're a great team, they've won 17 games and that was their 30th win. I'm so proud of (our) guy's effort and the way that they played."
Wharton after trailing for a majority of the game, briefly led late in the fourth. The lead was fleeting and with under a minute and a half left in the game, the Tigers trailed 57-56.
Stafford looking to take time off the clock, passed the ball around the arc trying to keep it away from Wharton. With time ticking away Tigers' senior guard Joerell Davis poked the ball away from Stafford. The ball dribbled out of bounds, but possession went to Wharton after it was last touched by the Spartans. The Tigers quickly came down the court and got an open corner three, but the shot was long and Stafford grabbed the rebound.
With 14.9 seconds left the Tigers fouled Stafford putting them on the line to get one final possession. Stafford only made one free-throw, giving the Tigers a chance to tie or win the game. Wharton broke Stafford's press and launched a three from the top of the key. The shot was long and Wharton got the rebound. Wharton attempted a free-throw jumper, but that was also off target. Stafford grabbed the rebound as the final buzzer sounded, ending the game.
"We were trying to get to the hole but if they were to guard the paint we had a shooter in the corner for a three," King said. "We had a good look at the basket. Missed that shot, got a rebound, missed that shot. The ball just didn't fall our way this time."
The Runnin' Tigers took Stafford's best punch in the first half as they connected on a couple of three's that helped them grab and extend their lead.
Defense in the second half went up another notch for the Tigers as they frustrated Stafford. The Tigers' length and aggressive play changed shots and forced turnovers. Seniors Roy Gentry and Davis took over in the second half scoring all but eight of the team's points.
Davis scored a game-high 18 points. Junior guard Fred Jones had 14 points. Gentry was the final Tiger in double-digit scoring with 12.
The Tigers were one of two fourth-place teams in 4A to make it to the third round of the playoffs.