BUCYRUS — Troy Schwemley wouldn’t let himself wonder what could have been, but nobody would blame the Shelby coach if he did.
Playing without one of the best players in the area, the 10th-seeded Whippets gave No. 3 Vermilion all it could handle before falling 61-56 in the Division II sectional championship game Friday at Alex Kish Memorial Gymnasium.
The Sailors (18-5) will play Mansfield Senior at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Madison in the district semifinals. The Tygers beat Clear Fork 47-42 in Friday’s late game at Bucyrus.
The Whippets (12-12), who lost 6-foot-7 senior Hunter Hoffman early the season, stunned No. 6 Sandusky in the opening round and put themselves in position to spring another upset in the final minute. Shelby trailed 59-56 and had possession of the ball in the closing seconds but misfired on a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 10 ticks remaining. Vermilion’s Mason Montgomery hit a pair of free throws with 3.7 seconds left to ice it.
“I’ve told myself all year not to play that game,” Schwemley said when asked about the absence of Hoffman, who injured his knee in mid-December and re-aggravated the injury during an unsuccessful comeback bid later in the year. “Obviously we’ve missed Hunter tremendously … but I’m proud of the effort. There were points there when we were really struggling.
“I thought we did a good job of getting ourselves to this point. To be in a sectional final in a one-possession game, we just came up a little short.”
Shelby trailed 55-46 going into the fourth quarter, but cut Vermilion’s lead to 58-54 on a T.J. Pugh 3-pointer with 3:10 remaining. A layup by Nick Amstutz off a nifty Uriah Schwemley assist cut the deficit to 58-56 with 1:06 remaining before Montgomery split a pair of free throws with 35.9 seconds to play to make it 59-56. Shelby worked the ball around the perimeter, but Uriah Schwemley’s triple try was off the mark with about 10 seconds remaining and Montgomery iced it by hitting both ends of the one-and-one situation.
“I knew those last free throws were big,” Montgomery said. “Those last two … put the game out of reach.”
The Whippets trailed 36-31 early in the third, but the Sailors fashioned a 5-0 run to open a 41-31 lead with 6:29 left in the period. Six straight points by Push pulled the Whippets within four at 41-37, but Vermilion closed on a 14-9 run to take a 55-46 lead to the fourth.
The Sailors also pieced together a critical 11-5 run in the latter stages of the first half to turn a 24-23 deficit into a 34-29 halftime lead. That stretch included five consecutive Shelby turnovers.
“Midway through the second quarter we had a 1-points lead and we turned it over four or five times in a row,” Schwemley said. “That stretch really dug us a whole that we couldn’t quite get out of.”
The loss ruined a sensational performance by Pugh, who scored 29 points and knocked down six 3-pointers. Uriah Schwemley added 11 points.
Montgomery led the Sailors with 24 points. Reese Miller added 21.