Marceline's boys' basketball season came to a close in Schuyler County on Monday night, but it certainly was not for the lack of resolve.
The fifth-seeded Tigers lost to Putnam County in the opening round of the Class 2 District 7 tournament, 80-76, in a game laden with fireworks and tension.
Marceline found itself in frequent foul trouble, and Chase Billups' third-quarter foul-out forced Tiger coach Paul Stevens to experiment with an already shallow bench. Trey Davis fouled out early in the fourth, and Desmond Harrison picked up his fifth not long after.
"I was throwing some kids into the fire just because there was so much foul trouble," Stevens said. "They could have easily folded multiple times, and they didn't. They showed their character, and they showed was Marceline Tiger basketball is all about."
The Tigers trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half after a rocky start. The Midgets scored the first nine points of the game, and Marceline was unable to light up the visitor's half of the scoreboard until the 3:17 mark in the first quarter when senior Levi Terrell eased in a layup.
After taking a 16-9 deficit into the second quarter, Marceline conceded the next seven points of the game and shortly thereafter found itself in a 32-15 hole. The Tigers clawed back within 10 points by the end of the half, returning to the locker room with a 41-31 deficit after Terrell hit a layup just before the horn sounded.
In his last career game, Lance Gladbach would not let his team go down quietly. He knocked down a three-pointer on the Tigers' first possession of the second half, then another one 30 seconds later. The Oklahoma transplant splashed another at the buzzer to bring his team back within nine points at 59-50 in a third period riddled with offense.
"He was on fire, he kept us in that ballgame," Stevens said. "We just ran out of gas and ran out of depth."
The Tigers finally forced the game back within one possession at the 3:51 mark of the fourth quarter when Terrell converted an and-one to bring the score to 66-64. The Midgets then went on an 8-2 run on the back of Carson Quint, who carried Putnam to victory with 35 points. Marceline charged back and trimmed the lead to a single point at 77-76 with 36 seconds left when Gladbach hit a floater, but the Tigers were unable to score from that point onward.
Marceline fouled on the ensuing inbound, and Putnam County knocked down the front end before collecting the errant second attempt and putting it back.
Putnam's free-throw struggles kept the Tigers in the game down the stretch. Astonishingly, the Midgets missed 16 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter alone.
"We tried to make them pressure us in the fourth quarter, and we felt like we had advantage speed-wise when they tried to extend that pressure," Putnam County coach Kyle Fleshman said. "It was the perfect plan for them, they decided to foul, and kept themselves in the game when we struggled.
"One thing about Marceline, they get hot, and the way they shoot that ball we knew that no lead was safe."
Marceline's three primary scorers were all deep in double figures. Gladbach led the Tigers with 26 points, Terrell finished with 22, and junior Desmond Harrison posted 16.
Marceline finishes the season 10-14, and Putnam County improves to 16-10 and will face Milan in the tournament semifinals.
"Even though we were down early, I knew these kids wouldn't quit," Stevens said. "They do an awesome job about finding their way back into games, and I'm proud of that. Every time they step on the court, they give me all they've got. I told them that if their attitude and effort is good in those situations, we can be a good basketball team. They played their tails off, and I'm proud of each and every one of them."