JOHNSONBURG, Pa. – Despite struggling from the free-throw line for most of the game, Clarion was perfect when it mattered most.
Hunter Craddock hit two free throws with 0.6 of a second left in overtime to lift Clarion to its first District 9 championship since 2003 with a 58-56 extra-session win at Johnsonburg Tuesday night.
Johnsonburg had tied the game with 13 seconds left on a pair of Ethan Wells free throws. But Clarion’s Ethan Burford made an extra pass to get the ball to Craddock under the hoop as time wound down, and the senior was fouled by Cam Stelene as he took a last-second shot.
The Bobcats shot just 8-18 (44.4 percent) from the line in the fourth quarter and overtime (13-25 for the game) before Craddock, who came into the game shooting only 57.3 percent (43 of 75) from the line on the season, stepped to the charity stripe.
“It felt really good,” Craddock said of game-winning free throws. “It was good to be there for the team when they needed me.”
“Eighteen years is a long time,” Clarion coach Scott Fox said. “These kids put a lot of work in over the offseason, even though we didn’t really have an offseason, to get back to where we were last year. Then to actually win the tournament title this year after coming in second (last year). It’s great for the school.”
Johnsonburg, after trailing by six at the half, held a 37-33 leading heading into the fourth quarter. Clarion cut the lead to two, 43-41, midway through the fourth and tied it at 45-45 with three minutes to play. Beau Verdill and German went 3-4 from the line to give Clarion a 48-45 advantage with just under two minutes to go.
The miss from German, who is usually automatic from the line coming into the game shooting 64 of 71 (90.1 percent) from the stripe, was the first of four straight that opened the door for Johnsonburg, and Eric Christoff buried a 3-pointer to tie it with 41 seconds left. Christian Simko tried to bank in a buzzer-beater for Clarion to end regulation, but it fell off the front of the rim to send the game to overtime.
In a back-and-forth overtime, a Cam Stelene putback put Johnsonburg ahead 54-53 with 1:36 to play before a German three put Clarion up 56-54. The Bobcats then got a five-second violation on an inbounds play. But Beau Verdill missed two free throws with 28.1 seconds left to keep Johnsonburg alive.
Wells then tied the game for the Rams before Craddock won it for Clarion.
Clarion entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed. After a quarterfinal round win over 5th seeded A-C Valley, the Bobcats upset top-seeded Elk County Catholic in the semifinals. Johnsonburg was the No. 3 seed.
“Any other year you’d be playing these games at neutral sites,” Fox said. “But having the pressure on them hosting a game, coming to Johnsburg, the pressure’s on them to host the District 9 championship game. That’s added pressure that you don’t want going into that game.”
The game was historic, not just for ending Clarion’s championship drought, but for the KSAC and District 9 as well. It was just the second overtime D-9 championship game in Class 1A since the PIAA moved to the numerical classifications in 1976 (the other was in 2000, a 65-61 Elk County Christian win over Keystone). It was the first championship game, across all classes, to head to overtime since 2008.
Clarion became the first KSAC team to win the 1A title since Clarion-Limestone in 2015, and just the fourth since 1999.
Clarion led by six, 25-19, at halftime thanks to 12 points from Cal German and a defense that held the Rams to just three first-quarter field goals.
But Johnsonburg came out firing to start the second half.
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The Rams opened the third quarter with a 12-2 run, which included a pair of Christoff threes, to take a 31-27 lead. Fox called a timeout and German knocked down a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding.
“Basically our third quarter been terrible all year,” Fox said. “Even though they came out hot, we knew we still had a chance to come back and win this game. They came back and battled back throughout the third, fourth, and overtime, we end up getting the win.”
German had a game-high 31 points to lead the Bobcats, whose five starters played the entire game without coming off the floor. Simko and Verdill finished with 10 each, while Craddock added seven.
Stelene had 24 points for Johnsonburg, while Christoff had 19.
Clarion will host Bishop Carroll in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs Friday.
A-C Valley, Brockway, Brookville, Clarion, Clarion-Limestone, DuBois, DCC, Keystone, North Clarion, Redbank Valley, and Union recaps are powered by Computer Support in Clarion.
CLARION 58, JOHNSONBURG 56, OVERTIME
Score by Quarters
Clarion 13 12 8 15 10 – 58
Johnsonburg 8 11 18 11 8 – 56
CLARION – 58
Cal German 11 4-8 31, Beau Verdill 3 4-9 10, Christian Simko 4 2-4 10, Hunter Craddock 2 3-4 7, Ethan Burford 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 13-25 58.
JOHNSONBURG – 56
Cam Stelene 11 2-5 24, Eric Christoff 7 0-0 19, Gabe Watts 3 0-0 7, John Douglas 2 0-04 , Ethan Wells 0 2-2 2, Jefferson Freeburg 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 4-7 56.
Three-pointers: Clarion 5 (German 5). Johnsonburg 6 (Christoff 5, Watts)