For all those seeking thrills, the South Putnam High School gymnasium was the place to be Friday.
In a game that saw six ties and nine lead changes, the No. 2-ranked Tri-West boys' basketball team outlasted No. 11 Cloverdale in an overtime heart-racing thriller, 77-75, advancing to the championship of the Class 2A South Putnam Sectional 45 today at 7:30 p.m.
It was Hoosier hysteria at its finest.
"It wasn't the fact that either one of us won or lost," Tri-West Coach Eric Rauch said. "I just thought time ran out. I've said that when I've been on the other side of this. I mean, it was so back and forth, it was a matter of when that clock finally ran out. And lucky for us, it did."
It was a Tyler Bruce tip with just 2.1 seconds remaining that gave the Bruins their final lead of the ball game.
After Cloverdale's Chase Haltom hit a clutch running one-hander in the lane, tying the game at 75-all with just 18 ticks remaining, Bruce followed a Marco Moses shot to give the Bruins the victory.
"We actually were going to (isolate) Bruce," Rauch said. "But Marco's read is, if he's got him sealed and he's got his guy beat, go for it."
Luckily for Moses, Bruce was in the right place at exactly the right time.
"If that kids not a junior All-Star, I don't know what is," Rauch said. "The kid is just a competitor. When you need a play, he's going to make it."
Bruce led the Bruins with 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting, while Moses added 18 points in the game.
In his final game, Haltom scored a game-high 31 points, including five three-pointers. Fellow senior Kyle McCammon had 18 points on six three-pointers, while Craig Blair added 15 for the Clovers.
Blair came through in the clutch for the Clovers, when his team needed him most in regulation.
Down 70-68, with less than 20 seconds remaining, he took the ball to the basket, drawing a foul and nearly hitting a layup.
In front of the Tri-West student section, Blair calmly sunk both free-throws, tying the game at 70-all with 15.7 seconds remaining.
After a Tri-West turnover, the Clovers had one last possession to win the game before overtime. However, a last-second Haltom jumper went slightly wide right, and the Bruins were given one last chance.
Despite scoring first in overtime, after a Christian Cheatham offensive rebound and bucket, the Bruins finished the game on a 7-3 run, capped by Bruce's game-sealing putback.
"It was two good teams going at it. We just happened to be on the short end. I can't fault our players," Cloverdale Coach Pat Rady said. "My only regret is we can't be at practice next week. Because I thoroughly enjoy being around these young men."
Cloverdale started the game, going 6-of-17 in the first quarter, before putting up 26 points in the second period off 8-of-14 shooting, taking a 42-36 lead into halftime.
Haltom had 19 points in the first half alone.
Cloverdale stretched the lead to as many as nine points early in the third period, while Bruce picked up his fourth foul.
However, Bruce's departure didn't affect the Bruins, as Tri-West went on a 14-4 run to end the the third period, taking a 54-53 lead into the final quarter.
The Clovers took the lead back in the fourth period, stretching the score to 68-58 with just 3:15 remaining in the game.
However, Tri-West responded with a 12-0 run over the next three minutes, capped by a steal and layup by Moses with just 27 seconds remaining.
"When two good teams play like that, you're going to make runs," Rady said. "They made a run there. They're a fine ball club."
Tri-West improves to 20-2 and faces Cascade today in the sectional championship at 7:30 p.m. Despite playing two tough games in a row, Rauch is confident his team will be fine today.
"Being a championship game, they'll be ready," he said. "We'll pump them with fluids, get them rested tonight, come back and be ready tomorrow."
Cloverdale finished the season 17-5.
The game also ends the careers of Haltom, McCammon, Luke Lovins, Tyler Cooper and Kyle Faletic in Cloverdale uniforms.
"We're going to miss the seniors," Rady said. "What a great group of seniors who have been so good for the community of Cloverdale and the Cloverdale basketball program. We will thoroughly miss them."
Looking ahead to his 43rd of year coaching, after the game, Rady wasn't about to show any signs of slowing down soon.
"To be honest with you, I can't wait until next year," he said. "You give me 24 hours and we'll be ready. If you could do it, we'd go right down there now and start practicing.
"Hopefully, they'll be eager to start the season next year. You don't look back. You can't change things. That's already happened. You've just got to look to the future," Rady added.
At South Putnam
Class 2A Sectional 45 Semifinal
Cloverdale 16 26 11 17 5 -- 75
Tri-West 17 19 18 16 7 -- 77
Cloverdale -- Neese 2-4 1-2 7, Blair 4-5 6-7 15, Haltom 11-25 4-5 31, Cheatham 1-2 0-1 2, McCammon 6-19 0-1 18, Lovins 1-2 0-0 2, Dean 0-2 0-0 0. Totals FG 25-59, FT 11-16, TP 75.
Tri-West -- Ricks 6-15 0-1 14, Tucker 0-0 3-4 3, Robertson 4-6 3-4 11, Moses 8-18 1-2 18, Thompson 3-6 0-3 6, Bruce 11-17 2-4 25. Totals FG 32-62, FT 9-18, TP 77.
3 pt. -- Cloverdale 14 (McCammon 6), Tri-West 4 (Ricks 2), Rebounds -- Cloverdale 31 (Cheatham 8), Tri-West 30 (Moses 7), Assists -- Cloverdale 13 (Haltom 4), Tri-West 16 (Thompson 8), Steals -- Cloverdale 3 (Blair 2), Tri-West 8 (Thompson 3, Bruce 3), Team Fouls -- Cloverdale 17, Tri-West 20, Turnovers -- Cloverdale 18, Tri-West 8.
Cloverdale finished the season 17-5.