Adairsville boys coach Alex Disbrow had the exact scenario he wanted. Senior Cody Henderson stood at the foul line with a chance to help salt away a hard-fought win over Sonoraville with two free throws.
But he missed.
Instead of a two- or even three-point lead, the Tigers raced back on defense clinging to a one-point edge. Phoenix senior Will Walraven charged into the center of the defense and drew a foul. The Sonoraville standout sank both to take the lead.
The Tigers brought the ball up the court, and it found its way to Henderson. With the missed free throw already a distant memory, the 6-foot-3 guard drove towards the basket.
Another whistle; another trip to the charity stripe. Exactly 10 seconds remained in a game with massive repercussions in the Region 6-AAA standings.
Henderson hit the first of a guaranteed two to tie the score. Following a Sonoraville timeout, he buried the second for a 55-54 lead.
Walraven had a contested layup rim out to avoid a would-be-fatal body blow to Adairsville.
“Cody shoots 78 percent from the free-throw line,” Disbrow said. “He misses the front-end of the one-and-one. We had exactly what we wanted, and he missed it.
“But you know what? He didn’t get down on himself. He showed mental toughness. And when they put him back on the line, he hit two to seal the victory.”
Even after a massive victory — which gives Adairsville (9-8, 5-3) a legitimate chance to earn the South sub-region No. 1 seed for the region tournament — Disbrow said the win doesn’t change anything.
“Honestly, nothing,” he said. “It’s one game. We beat Calhoun [last] Friday, turned around and lost to a Rockmart team. We have Armuchee [tonight].
“While this is good — I’m happy for them and proud of them — but it’s over when I walk out of the gym. I’m going to dig into the Armuchee film and try to win a game tomorrow. … As a coaching staff, we’re not going to let this win carry into tomorrow night.”
Adairsville surged to a quick 13-2 advantage, but Sonoraville (15-3, 6-1) battled back to close the gap to 19-14 entering the second quarter. Hunter Hice had seven of his team-high 21 points for the Tigers in the opening eight minutes.
The pace slowed significantly in the second period with the Phoenix barely able to stay within striking distance, trailing 30-22 at halftime. Henderson managed to put up five of his 11 points in the quarter.
Behind the play of Trenton Daniel, who led the Phoenix with 21 points, Sonoraville pulled within 43-40 entering the fourth quarter. It was a predictable comeback for a team that entered the night unbeaten in region play.
“They’re a really good team, they’re really well coached and they have really good basketball players,” Disbrow said of Sonoraville. “We were fortunate to win.”
The fourth quarter seemed like a microcosm of the Tigers’ season, thus far. Despite having led throughout, Adairsville, which started the season 1-6, found itself down early in the period.
Having fought back to have a seemingly comfortable four-point lead inside a minute to play, the Tigers watched as everything went exactly how it needed to for the Phoenix to set up a daring escape.
Then, they punched back.
“One thing I was told when I took this job over the summer,” Disbrow said, “Adairsville kids are really good front-runners, but when they get punched in the mouth, they lay down. That’s not true about this team. We’ve been punched in the mouth, and we keep standing up. …
“People were kicking us while we were dead. And they have fought their dad-gum guts out. I’m very, very proud of this team.”