By Paul Wilcoxen
MOUNT CARMEL — A game-high 27 points from Austin Rager wasn’t enough as the Mount Carmel Aces lost at home to North Posey Thursday night, 59-58, in pool play at the Toyota Gibson County Teamwork Classic in boys high school basketball action.
“There still felt like there was a lack of energy even though we did a good job getting off to a good start,” said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. “A lot of that had to do with Austin Rager probably playing his best game of the year for us. If we can get Austin playing like that the rest of the way, we’re going to win a lot of ball games.”
Josiah Ricketts hit the game-tying and then the game-winning free throw with 1.3 seconds left. The Aces’ long distance throw from across court was intercepted as time expired dropping Mount Carmel to 6-5 on the year.
“Give North Posey a lot of credit,” said Buss. “They hit some tough shots late. They made their free throws. We were right there. I wasn’t necessarily displeased with our defense down the stretch, they just made some tough shots and got the call there at the end.
Both teams went back and forth in the fourth quarter. The Aces led entering the final quarter, 45-39 but Jacob Sandord hit a 3 to cut the Vikings’ deficit in half.
Beau Stipp scored on a baseline drive followed by a 3 from North Posey’s Alex Stewart to make it a 47-45 game in favor of the Aces with 6:30 left.
“It’s a lot of little things that we have to get better at,” said Buss. “We have to take more charges. We were in a position to take three or four charges and we didn’t get it done and North Posey did take a few charges that were big calls. It’s nothing necessarily skill related but the little things. We have to continue to get better that.”
Sandord’s 3 gave the Vikings a 55-52 lead with 3:25 left. Brayden Stipp answered and tied it with two free throws but Sandord answered again with a pull-up jumper to give Mount Carmel a 57-55 lead with 2:38 left in the basketball game.
“It was a close game and we plan on being in a lot of games that are close like this,” said Buss. “As a group that’s still trying to figure itself out, the more we can be in these situations is great but we have to start being able to pull these out.”
Rager tied it up with 2:14 left and then gave the Aces a one-point lead with a free throw with 8.1 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, Ricketts raced toward the basket, was fouled, and hit both of his free throws to give the Vikings the lead and eventual victory.
Sandord finished with 24 points to lead the Vikings. He was 3-for-7 from inside the 3-point arc and 5-for-10 from behind the line. Ricketts tallied 12 while David Bender added 11 for North Posey.
Brayden Stipp added 18 points to finish as the only other double-figure scorer besides Rager for the Aces.
“Give North Posey credit, they did a good job on Bret Done (who finished 1-for-7 from the floor and two points) and that took him out of his comfort zone,” said Buss. “We just didn’t make quite enough plays down the stretch. Give them credit for making the plays and we just didn’t.”
The Aces will travel to Gibson Southern high school tonight for the second and final game of pool play action against the Titans. Gibson Southern defeated North Posey Tuesday night, so a victory for the Titans will put them in the championship game Saturday in Princeton against Castle.
“As a coach, after a tough loss you try to look positively,” said Buss. “I think at times this year we’ve not been tough. We have no choice [Friday]. We have got to be tough because they are a tough, physical, well coaches ball team. If you don’t play tough and if you don’t play physical with them, It’s going to get worse. Hopefully, your guys will know that. It’s a blessing in disguise.”
A win will put all three teams in Pool B at 1-1 and force the tiebreaker to determine the order. If they lose, the Aces will play in the fifth-place game at 12:45 against a Pool A opponent yet to be determined.