A pair of longtime Heart of America League rivals hooked up Friday evening to do battle in the third-place game at the 44th Annual Canton-Galva Boys’ Basketball Tournament, as top-seeded Bennington met up with sixth-seeded Ell-Saline. By halftime, it appeared the route was on.
Bennington, led by senior guard J.J. Allen’s 12 first-half points, held a 30-13 lead over the ice-cold Cardinals, who had connected on just three field goals over the game’s first two quarters.
Early on in the third quarter, Bennington extended their advantage to 19. Enter Ell-Saline senior guard Hunter Kindlesparger.
Held scoreless throughout the first half, Kindlesparger drew a foul driving to the basket, went to the free throw line and connected on the pair of charity tosses – a spark that ignited a firestorm for Kindlesparger and the Cardinals. By the time the third period hit triple zeros, Kindlesparger had eleven points, helping Ell-Saline trim what had been a 19-point deficit down to five, 37-32. The route had officially been cancelled.
Throughout the fourth, the Cardinals continued to whittle away at the once seemingly insurmountable deficit, drawing twice within one with opportunities at the free throw line to tie, only to miss. With 6.2 seconds left, Bulldog senior Ryan Stanley connected on one of two free throws to give Bennington a 47-45 lead. Kindlesparger took the inbounds pass, flew up the near sideline, then just shy of the three-point line, executed a phenomenal full-speed, behind-the-back dribble to avoid a Bulldog defender and in that same single motion, rose high from 16 feet and buried a beautiful tear drop from the right wing as the horn sounded, tying the ball game at 47 aside.
In the overtime period, both Allen and Kindlesparger took over for their respective teams, putting five points a piece on the board over the extra four-minute session. With under a minute remaining, Ell-Saline senior Mason Farrell muscled in a stickback from the right block to tie the game once again, this time at 54-54. But on a night where each team’s star performer shined bright, it was the Bulldog senior who wrote the final act.
With the final seconds winding away, Allen dribbled stationary from the right wing, then with seven seconds left, made the move everyone in the gym had anticipated – an iso dribble drive to the tin. Ell-Saline was ready, as three Cardinals flew at Allen to get the stop. But on a night where the senior poured in 29 points, his decision to give up the final shot was the biggest score of all, as Allen found Stanley all alone under the Bennington bucket for the chip shot with 2.1 seconds to go. Time expired as the Cardinals tried to get the ball back in play, giving the Bulldogs a heart-stopping 56-54 win.
With 29 points on the night, Allen led all scorers. Stanley added ten for Bennington (11-2) while senior Kyle Shipley provided eight points off the Bulldog bench.
Kindlesparger finished with 21 points for Ell-Saline (4-9,) all coming in the second half and overtime in a tremendous individual effort. Sophomore reserve Sawyer Kramer reached double digits for the second time in three games, finishing with 11. Farrell chipped in with nine, while senior Tel Phelps added seven in the losing effort.