By Drew Karpen
Girard’s Joe Swanson came through in the clutch, going 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in the final minute to propel the YellowJackets to a 48-44 Region 6 win over General McLane at General McLane High School on Friday night. The loss was the first Region loss for McLane of the season.
“I’ve done it before,” Swanson said about the clutch free throws. “My teammates played good defense and we came through in the end.”
The YellowJackets (11-4, 5-2 Region 6) made the defensive stop of the game on General McLane’s Jaymon Mason with 12.9 seconds left. Mason had the ball with his team down two. Already converting on three 3-pointers in the game, Mason tried to sink his fourth, but came up short. The air ball gave possession back to Girard, giving Swanson the opportunity to sink the free throws.
“Coach said if we were down two go for the two and if we were down three go for the three,” Mason said about the final play call. “I went up in the air and tried to get fouled but they played good defense.”
The Lancers (11-4, 6-1) had a sluggish start, quickly falling behind 6-0. As quickly as they fell behind, they were right back in it. After starting the game off 0 for 5 from 3-point range as a team, the Lancers caught fire. Marcus Erdman rattled in the first deep ball to cut the lead to 6-3. Mason would follow with back-to-back 3s to give the Lancers a 9-6 advantage.
Mason’s first quarter heroics would not end there. With the game tied at 11, Mason stepped up and drilled his third 3-pointer of the quarter at the buzzer, bringing the crowd of 713 people to their feet.
With all the momentum on their side, the Lancers came back onto the court in the second the same way the started the first — slow.
Girard switched from a zone defense to man-to-man and had point guard Kendall Bonnett shadowing Mason. The switched proved to be successful as Mason was held scoreless in the quarter and the YellowJackets outscored the Lancers 14-6 to take a 25-20 lead at the half.
“He shut him down,” Swanson said of Bonnett’s defense on Mason. “We wanted to make sure we stopped him from touching the ball as much as we could. He is good, though, so he is going to score anyway.”
McLane came out in the second half like a team on a mission. At the start of third quarter, they made sure that everyone got involved.
Lukas Hallett drained a 3-pointer from the corner on the first possession. On the other end, Quinn Thompson got the crowd going with a block. Girard’s Brian McNally drove to the hoop only to be ferociously denied by Thompson.
“I was just fired up because I had a horrible first half,” Thompson said. “I just had to come out with intensity and get the team into the game. I was just going all out trying to block every shot.”
Mason would tie the game up on the next possession, scoring his first points since the first quarter.
The third quarter began to spiral out of control with foul calls. With both sides unhappy, the student sections found a way to back their teams up by trading clean but personal chants towards one another.
“It’s General McLane and Girard so every game is going to be like this,” McLane assistant coach Brian Schulz said. “We are kind of use to it.”
With Girard up 34-27, McLane relied on the quickest way to get back into a game — the 3-point line.
Hallett drained his second 3-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to 34-32.
Then, after Thompson emphatically rejected another shot, he found an opening on the offensive end, hitting a 3-pointer and giving the Lancers their first lead since early in the second quarter.
“I didn’t hesitate at all because they were face guarding me the whole game,” Thompson said. “I barely had the chance to shoot the ball or even get the ball so when I had that open 3-pointer I knew I had to take it. It was a momentum swing but then we lost the momentum in the fourth quarter.”
Both teams got off to slow start in the fourth quarter, but McLane still maintained a three-point lead with less than two minutes left.
That would shortly change after Bonnett found an opening and hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 41-41.
The Lancers turned the ball over on their next possession. To make matters worse, Brett Kulka committed a foul trying to fight for the ball, sending Girard’s Joe Dunn to the free-throw line.
Dunn made both free throws to push the YellowJackets into the lead.
With 35 seconds remaining, Mason got fouled but was only able to convert on one of two free throws.
Bonnett only made one free throw on the other end setting up the missed 3-pointer by Mason to seal the Lancers’ fate.
“I thought Girard played really hard,” Schulz said. “They came out here fired up and we got down early. That was the difference. We battled back and forth in the second half. They came out and they were ready to play and we weren’t.”
Mason had a game-high 24 points in the losing effort. Hallett added 10 points.
For Girard, Swanson led the team with 15 points. Bonnett chipped in with 13.