By Paul Evers, sports editor
With 3.1 seconds on the clock, the varsity basketball team had the opportunity to do something they haven’t done since 2009: win an MSL Conference Championship.
The team only needed a three pointer to accomplish this feat. Senior Matt Szuba described the last seconds of the game perfectly.
“We wanted it, and then they made a play in the last second, tipped the ball, and it was game over,” Szuba said.
With the defensive effort at the end, the Fremd Vikings were able to take home the MSL title Wednesday night and remain undefeated by winning 57-55. The Knights were lead by the big three of Szuba (12 points, 7 rebounds), senior Frankie Mack (15 points, 54% FG%, 50% 3PT%) and junior David Swedura (14 points, 3 steals). The Vikings were led by senior Kyle Sliwa who had 23 points on 52% shooting (9-17).
Fremd took an early lead, controlling most of the first quarter to take a 18-10 lead. The Vikings would never have that big of a lead in the game again.
In the second quarter, the Knights hit two threes to start the second quarter to cut the lead down to 2. Swedura was able to come up with a steal and hit a transition layup to tie the game up with 6:38 remaining in the half.
The teams then went on to trade baskets for the rest of the quarter. With Fremd hitting the last basketball of the half, they were able to take a three-point lead into halftime.
Out of the break, the teams basically once again traded baskets in the third quarter. The turning point came when Swedura hit a three pointer with 2:52 left to put the Knights down only one, 42-41. Fremd made one free throw on its next possession, which set up senior Antonio Gardner (7 points, 3-4 on free throws) to have a chance to tie up the game for the first time since 3:15 in the second quarter, with a pair of free throws.
Gardner missed the second free throw, but senior Grant Zellmer (2 points, 4 rebounds) came up with the rebound and got fouled on the putback attempt. He hit two free throws and gave the Knights their first lead of the night, 44-43, with 53 seconds remaining in the third.
Then to start the fourth, Fremd got a quick layup to take back the lead. But it wouldn’t stay for long, as Swedura hit a jump shot and then Mack hit a lefty layup with 6:32 remaining to give Prospect a 48-45 lead.
Then Fremd was able to put together a quick 6-0 run, taking a 51-48 lead with 4:44 remaining. The Knights went cold on the offensive end, not scoring a basket for 5 minutes.
When looking back on the fourth quarter, head coach John Camardella said the lack of scoring was a key moment.
“There [are] two chunks of the fourth quarter that stood out,” Camardella said. “It was the five empty possessions for us on the offensive end followed by Fremd. … They spaced the floor and they literally take the life out of you. They had two minute-long possessions, where if you look our guys’ legs are dead. That’s it, that’s Fremd.”
While Prospect didn’t score, Fremd was able to convert three free throws to build a 54-48 lead. Then Gardner was able to finally break the drought, inbounding the ball off the back of a Vikings player and hitting a layup to cut the deficit to four with 1:34 remaining.
Fremd was able to play keep away before finally being fouled with 47 seconds remaining in the game. Only making the first of two, the Knights trailed 55-50. Swedura was able to get a wide open three-pointer in the corner to put the Knights down only two with 32 seconds left.
After a pair of Fremd free throws, Prospect had another chance to cut the lead down. Gardner shot another corner three but was unable to make it. Once Fremd came down with the rebound, they took a timeout and it looked like the game was just about over.
The Knights didn’t quit, though. On the ensuing inbounds, Swedura was able to intercept a full-court pass and got the ball up to Mack, who put a layup in to make it a 57-55 ball game with 8 seconds left.
The Vikings had to inbound the ball off of another time out and once again failed to keep possession as they were called for a five seconds violation on the inbound. The Knights used their last timeout to draw up a play, but they weren’t able to convert.
“We’re out of timeouts; we knew they had a couple fouls to give,” Camardella said. “The play that we had drawn up, they took us out of it both times.”
With Fremd fouling on the next two inbounds, Prospect still trailed by two with 5.2 seconds left. On the next inbounds, Mack got tied up in the corner for a jump ball but it stayed with the Knights.
On their last chance of the night, the ball was tipped away and ended the Knights’ comeback hopes.
At the end of the game, Camardella was proud of his players’ effort.
“What I told my players [was], ‘I’m disappointed for you, but I’m not at all disappointed in you,’” Camardella said. “They played their tails off. There’s a reason that team is 26-0.”
Prospect shot 42 percent from the field while Fremd shot 53 percent from the field. Camardella said that the team did a good job of making up for their off shooting night in other areas of the game.
“The biggest thing was rebounding,” Camardella said. “We outrebounded them the whole game… that was how we were making up for it. In terms of our shot selection, in the first half, we had great looks. We just missed.”
Gardner said that this game showed how this team can stay in games even when they don’t shoot well.
“It just shows how we play together and bounce back no matter what,” Gardner said. “We didn’t stay down. Even if shots don’t fall we find another way to stay in the game, because you know Fremd is a good team and if we dwell on what we did bad, it would be a blowout, and we didn’t want that. So we can’t dwell on the bad.”
Camardella said that the big turning point of the game was the fourth quarter.
“You can’t get down to Fremd,” Camardella said. “We’re up 48-45, we had every chance in the world and had five straight empty possessions. We just looked at that: a couple of missed threes, a missed layup, a couple of turnovers, and suddenly it’s a 6-0 run for them and you’re playing from behind. For as far as our guys have come this year, [this was] a chance to really put their stamp on a game and to show that they don’t quit. They get two turnovers, have a shot at the end, give Fremd all the credit in the world that they were able to end it the way that they did.”
Gardner said he’ll take away the experience from this game as the team season continues into the state playoffs.
“We got a crack at them, and we’ve wanted a crack at them for a long time,” Gardner said. “We showed ourselves, that even though it was a heartbreaker, we showed ourselves that we can compete with them and possibly beat them in the sectional.”