Thirty years after they came painfully close to winning a state title, the Okawville Rockets were forced to endure another team’s celebration again.
Drew Gibson hit an off-balance shot with 31 seconds remaining Saturday and then sank two free throws in the closing seconds to lift St. Anthony of Padua, from Effingham, to a 49-46 overtime victory over Okawville in the Class 1A state championship game.
It was another dramatic finish for Okawville, which lost the 1987 Class A state title game to Venice on two free throws with five seconds remaining.
“Tonight you saw a lot of heart and a lot of guts out of this basketball team,” Okawville coach Jon Kraus said. “I didn’t expect anything different and I got out of them exactly what I thought I was going to get out of them: 36 minutes of toughness and fight.
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“We just came up a little bit short. No blame on these guys. They turned our town into a frenzy in the last few years.”
Okawville (32-4) trailed by 11 points during a sluggish first half and was down 35-25 with 7:38 remaining in regulation, but the Rockets forced overtime on a 16-6 run spurred by senior Noah Frederking.
Frederking, a University of Evansville recruit, scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half in his final high school game. He also scored the Rockets’ first 17 points in the second half and added seven rebounds and three steals.
Okawville took a 46-45 lead with 52 seconds remaining in overtime on a shot by Caleb Frederking, but the Bulldogs (30-5) answered 21 seconds later on the shot by Gibson to regain a one-point lead.
Okawville senior Shane Ganz had a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with 5.1 seconds remaining, but he missed the front end, and Gibson controlled the rebound.
No one felt worse about the miss than Ganz.
His only thoughts were “Make ‘em. Block everything out. I just came up short.”
We just came up a little bit short. No blame on these guys. They turned our town into a frenzy in the last few years.
Okawville coach Jon Kraus
After Gibson’s free throws, the Rockets worked the ball upcourt quickly and got off a desperation 3-point shot by Noah Frederking in traffic that was a little short.
“I expect to make it, and I didn’t make it,” Frederking said. “We finally put together a good run, and we had all the momentum in the world. We tried to sustain it as long as we could, and it just wasn’t enough.”
“We ran our play perfectly, our guys executed it just right,” Kraus said. “We haven’t had to run that all season in a game where it really meant something like that. We executed it perfectly, and we got a great shot with three seconds to go, length of the floor.”
Once his team celebrated the state title, St. Anthony coach Cody Rincker credited Okawville and Frederking for the comeback.
“Noah Frederking is an amazing player,” said Rincker, who turned 29 Saturday and also played two years at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “He is an amazing scorer, he thinks the game very well and has the ability to go inside or outside.
“We knew he was going to do something. He’s a special player, and it was a special moment. He stepped up big for them, and you kind of expected it.”
Okawville’s biggest lead was 44-41 with 2:38 remaining in overtime on a Luke Hensler 3-pointer.
After falling behind 6-0, Okawville battled back to tied it 8-8 only to see St. Anthony roll off 11 unanswered points to push its lead to 19-8 early in the second quarter.
“They just punched us right in the mouth right away,” Kraus said. “It just took us a little bit to get back into it.”
Down by 11 early in the second quarter, the Rockets picked up their defensive effort during the second quarter and stayed within 23-16 at halftime.
“Give credit to them, they ran some good stuff and hit some big shots,” Kraus said. “It’s a shame that somebody had to lose that game.”
Gibson and Alex Beesley led St. Anthony with 14 points apiece. Adam Levitt scored 12.
Frederking had 26 for Okawville, and Ganz added nine.