BLOOMINGTON - Tri-Valley's senior basketball players had waited for this chance since the first day of high school. They weren't about to wait a minute longer.
With Saturday night's McLean County Tournament championship game tied at 44-all, Vikings' seniors David Cripe, Kyler Hardy and Grant Jones took over, scoring 16 of their team's final 17 points in a 61-59 victory over Deer Creek-Mackinaw at Shirk Center.
Top-seeded Tri-Valley (14-4) earned its third McLean County title in four years and its seventh in 11 years. Yet, this one was special for Cripe, Hardy, Jones and the rest of the seniors.
"We've been dreaming about this since freshman year, wanting to win this," said Cripe, who scored a game-high 16 points. "This is awesome."
Tri-Valley trailed 28-23 at the half and 41-39 after three quarters. But with the game tied at 44 with four minutes left, Cripe sank a 3-pointer and Jones followed with a steal and layup.
Five straight points by Dee-Mack's Benny Frietsch tied it at 49, but a layup by Cripe with 1:35 left put the Vikings ahead to stay. They sank 8 of 11 free throws in the final minute to hold on, surviving an off-balance 3-point attempt by Frietsch at the buzzer.
Hardy was 5 of 5 at the line down the stretch and 8 of 10 overall. He finished with 14 points.
"We really clamped down on defense in the fourth quarter," Hardy said. "We knew if we were close in the end that we had the guys and the experience to hit those shots to pull it out."
The win was Tri-Valley's second over Dee-Mack (13-5) this year. The Vikings won in late November at Mackinaw, 47-46.
They earned this victory by hitting 6 of 11 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter while second-seeded Dee-Mack was making 3 of 11.
"These kids deserve everything they get. They have so much heart and stick together," said first-year Tri-Valley coach Jon Nelson. "We knew at halftime we had to make adjustments, and the kids responded to our challenges. We said we had to play defense and rebound better in the second half."
Dee-Mack was 12 of 18 from the field in the opening half and 16 of 27 after three quarters.
However, the shots came tougher in the final period, and the Chiefs also were 11 of 18 in the fourth quarter.
"They tightened it up on us defensively. We couldn't get any good looks," Dee-Mack coach Mitch Holmgren said. "To take the lead, I thought they were able to get in the lane on us and put us in some tough spots. They went to that spread offense and that gave us some trouble.
"I'm real proud of our kids for how hard they battled and getting all the way back and having a possession at the end."
Frietsch had 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Chiefs. Point guard Derek Morrow added 13 points and Dan Abbott scored eight.
Jones had seven rebounds to lead Tri-Valley to go with six points. Junior Cole Wells added eight points and four rebounds for the Vikings, who ended 16 of 25 at the line.
"We've been shooting a lot of free throws since the opening night (of the tournament)," Nelson said. "Kyler went 1 of 7 (that night) and it was driving him nuts. The kids stepped up and did what they needed to."
Heyworth 41, EPG 36
Heyworth sank 7 of 10 free throws in the final 1:17 to hold off El Paso-Gridley in the third-place game.
Third-seeded Heyworth (12-8) saw a 31-20 lead cut to 34-30 before putting the game away at the line. Sophomore Jordan Slayback led the Hornets with eight points, while Ryan Campbell, Nick Law and Brandon Bell added seven each. Heyworth was 13 of 38 from the field (34 percent) and made 13 of 21 free throws.
"I hate the saying, but yeah, that's winning ugly," Hornets' coach Terry Lootens said. "Both teams were throwing the ball every which way but in the basket. But again, we had a solid defensive effort. It (taking third place) is a good thing for these kids. They've played hard."
No. 5 seed EPG (7-10) shot 33 percent from the floor (15 of 45) and was 3 of 13 from the line. The Titans, who trailed 18-7 at the half, were led by Markus Fogle's nine points.
"We both had tough losses last night, and I was a little leery to see who would be awake first," EPG coach Brian Quam said. "Heyworth was physical with us the first half and beat us to every single spot. When you don't shoot well, you have to make it up on rebounds, and we did not hit the boards at all in the ffirst half."