VANDALIA — McKane Finkenbine almost thought Anna was out of chances in the final seconds of a Division III district final on Friday. Then he saw the ball on the floor.
Finkenbine grabbed up a loose ball, fired a quick shot and was fouled, then made two free throws with 1.3 seconds left to lift the Rockets to a 60-59 victory over Jamestown Greeneview at Vandalia-Butler’s Student Activity Center.
“I’m elated. I’ve got all sorts of emotions going through my body. I’m not sure what all happened there at the end,” Anna coach Nate Barhorst said shortly after getting water poured on him by players. “I just know that these guys have always had fight and always had togetherness. This group has come together just as good as any group I’ve had.
“… I’m so proud. Sometimes you have the ball bounce your way, and it did there. And how lucky was that at the end, to go to (Finkenbine), our best shooter on the team? He’s money every time he gets the ball to the line.”
The win earns the program its third consecutive Div. III title.
But it was almost like being the first title for this year’s group. Anna started five now-graduated seniors last year, and Finkenbine and Isiaiah Masteller were the only two players who saw significant time off the bench last season.
That lack of experience was evident early in the season, including in a three-game losing streak which dropped the squad to a 6-4 record in early January.
But the Rockets (21-5) have won 15 of their last 16 games and have pulled out close wins in that time, including key Shelby County Athletic League victories over Botkins and Jackson Center that helped them earn a share of the league’s title.
“It’s huge,” Barhorst said. “At the beginning of the season, a lot of people thought, ‘Eh, it’s going to take some time for them to gel.’ It did take some time, but this group has not only gelled on the court, they’ve gelled off the court, too.
“I’m seeing that chemistry build throughout the year, and you’ve got to have these types of games where you overcome, too. This team just seems like they’re destined to win.”
Carter Williams made a layup on a drive with about 15 seconds left to give Greeneview its first lead of the game at 59-58.
Masteller had a layup attempt blocked on Anna’s next possession. The ball bounced to Anna’s Zach Ambos, but he was called for a travel after grabbing the rebound.
The Rams threw the ball inbounds from in front of Anna’s bench with a little over five seconds left. The squad worked the ball to Myles Witt, but he had problems catching it as Finkenbine charged. Finkenbine quickly grabbed the ball, took a couple of dribbles, shot and was fouled.
“They passed it in and I saw the guy turn (to pass), and then my guy came up, and I just read it,” Finkenbine said. “I figured I’d go for it, because if I didn’t get it, we were going to lose.”
He then stepped to the free-throw line for the biggest attempts of his life with 1.2 seconds left.
“I was definitely a little bit nervous, but I knew they were going in,” Finkenbine said. “Our coaches always tell us free throws are 90 percent mental, so that’s what I was telling myself when I stepped up to the line.”
The Rams threw the ball down court to Rhett Burtch, who rushed a 12-foot attempt that hit off the side of the backboard right before the buzzer went off.
The game quickly tightened in the final minutes. Anna led 48-37 with about six minutes left after Ambos hit two early 3-pointers in the quarter.
The Rams narrowed the gap to six points before Anna again extended the lead to 10 on a Finkenbine 3.
But the Rams rattled off seven straight points in a minute, with the last coming on a 3 by Burtch with 1:46 left to cut the gap to 56-55.
“They just kept driving and attacking, and we couldn’t get a stop,” Finkenbine said. “We’ve just got to get better at defense, I guess.”
Finkenbine led the squad with 22 points while Masteller scored 21. Ambos added nine, all on 3-pointers in the second half.
Burtch led Greeneview (17-7) with 18. Ethan Caudill scored 13 and Williams scored 10.
The teams played close early. Jordan Erisman hit a 3 at the end of the first quarter to tie it 12-12, but Anna used an 11-8 scoring edge in the second to take a 23-20 halftime lead. Masteller made a shot with about two seconds left to increase the margin heading into the locker room.
The Rockets started the second on a 9-2 run to take a 32-22 lead, but the Rams cut the gap down to 39-36 before Masteller again hit a buzzer-beater.
“Greeneview’s a great team, but I don’t believe we played our greatest game,” Barhorst said. “We’ve played a lot better, we’ve attacked a lot better, we’ve finished better and we’ve rebounded the ball a lot better.”
Anna will face either Cincinnati Taft or Indian Lake in a D-III regional semifinal on Wednesday in Vandalia. The Senators and Lakers will face off in a district final on Saturday at Northmont High School.
Finkenbine said he’s proud of the progress the squad has shown this season and says they’re not done showcasing it.
“Everybody was saying we were going to have a down year this year with everybody that we lost last year, and I think we’ve proved a lot of people wrong and we’re going to continue to prove a lot of people wrong if we keep playing.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.