A lot of red eyes filed out of the Richmond Spartan locker room Friday night following their 64-62 loss to Knob Noster in the Class 3, District 15 championship game. An outstanding 21-7 season came to a disappointing end in front of a packed and raucous RHS gym that featured emotional ups and downs for fans of both the Panthers and Spartans.
For one half, it appeared the Spartans would end their 37-year district title drought. Then, Knob Noster seized control of the momentum and the game midway through the third quarter. The Panthers then withheld a furious Spartan charge with less than a minute remaining and will take their 22-5 record to St. Joseph for a Wednesday night sectional battle against Cameron.
“That last minute probably speaks volumes on what kind of kids they are and how much they’ve grown,” Richmond Coach Duane Bastob said. “They were not going to accept a loss without a fight.”
Richmond trailed by 10 with 61 seconds remaining when D’Andre Williams got a steal and cashed it in with a dunk, and then followed that with a 3-pointer a few seconds later to pull the Spartans to within 5. Jon Vance’s put-back with 10 seconds left cut the Panther lead to 4. Following a Panther free throw, Williams knocked down another 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final points to the Spartan season.
Things were going Richmond’s way throughout the first half as the Spartans grabbed a 15-7 lead after the first period, and maintained their lead through the second quarter. The Panthers began to grab a bit of momentum in the closing stages of the first half when Brian Hughes was fouled at the buzzer from outside the 3-point arc. Hughes, who would prove to be a thorn in Richmond’s side throughout the second half, calmly knocked down all three free throws to cut the Spartan halftime lead to 30-22.
The three free throws for Hughes brought his first half scoring total to 7, and was just a sign of things to come in the second half. The Panther guard and fellow senior Cullen Rosine would then put the rest of the team on their backs for the second half.
“There’s no question, in the terms of duos, they are the best we have faced all year long,” Bastob said. “The first game we played them I think, Rosine was on, the second time, it was Hughes, and tonight, we got both of them.”
Hughes ended the night with 23 points, while Rosine, who was held to just 2 points in the Spartans double-overtime win one week earlier, added 18.
Richmond held a 35-27 lead with 4:09 left in the third period when guard James Vance picked up his fourth foul and was forced to the bench. While the Spartan offense sputtered, Hughes and Rosine took over for Knob Noster with Hughes scoring the next 7 points, and Rosine adding a field goal to cut Richmond’s lead to 40-38. By the end of the quarter, the Panthers and Spartans were tied 43-43.
“There’s no question in my mind that if James doesn’t get in foul trouble, there’s probably a different outcome,” Bastob said. “When we went on this run, about 14 games ago, we won 13 and the impedes was we had James at the point. He just did so many things from there to help us with rebounding, guard strength and taking on the opposition’s best offensive player. There’s no question we missed him out there.”
Rosine opened the fourth period with a bucket, followed by another Hughes’ 3-pointer as the Panthers began with a 6-0 run to grab a lead they would not surrender. The Spartans battled back to cut the Knob Noster lead to 3 with 4:37 left in the game. However, the Spartan 3-point shooting which had been a big part of their attack the last few weeks, could not get going.
“We didn’t have that many looks, but the ones we did, we didn’t get to go down,” Bastob said. “They were out there defending it pretty good and you have to give them a lot of credit, they’re a pretty good defensive team.”
Williams ended the night two of Richmond’s five 3-point buckets on his way to scoring a team-high 19. Jon Vance added 13 points and 9 rebounds with James Vance adding 11 points before fouling out with 3:22 remaining in the game. Blaine Broderick added a dozen points with 4 assists, and Robert Brewer added 5 points and grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds.
Although falling short of a district title, the Spartans can include ending an 18-year conference championship drought to their list of accomplishments this season. As he began to talk about his seniors, who helped put together a 52-29 record in three varsity seasons Bastob became a bit emotional.
“I truly believe this senior group has put Richmond Spartan basketball back on the map,” he said as his voice began to crack. “Coach (Brock) Dover started it and worked with these kids when they were younger, I just happened have the privilege of being in the driver’s seat. I’m proud to have held that seat, and just hope we can push it to greater heights next year.”
PHOTO: D’Andre Williams was the spark plug in the final minutes of the game, hitting two 3-point shots. Williams ended the evening with a team-high 19 points. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News)