Caden Kickhaefer secured the rebound. Mark Grammer sprinted away from the white jerseys, only to stop and see the maroon explode off the bench.
The last ride for the seniors and coach Doug Finch isn’t over.
Senior Harper Williams nailed three triples in the fourth, classmate Mark Grammer scored the game-sealing bucket with 11 seconds left, and the Mustangs edged Wichita Heights, 45-41, to secure a spot at state for the fourth consecutive season. Salina Central has never been to state for four straight years.
While Williams and Grammer were key pieces to the puzzle in the final period, each player had their moment. Mark’s twin brother, David, hit two threes followed by a trey by sophomore Kickhaefer to give Central a 10-2 cushion in the first quarter.
Heights (16-6) wasn’t phased, holding the Mustangs without a point for the last 3:20 of the opening stanza, cutting the deficit to 10-6. After seeing the lead slip to one, senior Ben Driver had a pair of powerful buckets, pushing the margin out to five, 18-13, in the second.
That’s when the Falcons had their largest run, a 9-0 spurt that put Wichita Heights ahead 22-18. Salina Central (17-5) looked flat until senior Brogen Richardson soaked a key three at the buzzer, making the score 22-21 at halftime.
Wichita Heights turned to senior big man Jaden Okon in the third quarter, scoring nine of his game-high 18 points in the eight minutes after the break. Central’s trio of Williams, M. Grammer and Richardson combined for three triples, but still trailed 37-32 after the barrage.
Williams and M. Grammer took over the fourth, logging all 13 points for the Mustangs. Williams started the last frame with a deep three, followed by a Grammer layup to knot up the score at 37-37. Heights recorded the next bucket, its only of the frame, taking a brief two-point advantage. Central’s switch to the 2-3 zone proved to be effective.
Salina Central answered with back-to-back treys from Williams, handing the Mustangs a four-point cushion. Following two Heights free throws from Keither Florence, the Falcons received the ball back after forcing a turnover. Heights bled out the clock, looking for the final shot, only to give the ball back to Central.
From the baseline, Richardson launched a pass deep to M. Grammer, who missed the layup because of a goaltending call on Wichita Heights. That sealed the deal as M. Grammer finished with seven points, a point shy of Richardson and D. Grammer. Williams paced the Mustangs with 12.
The Mustangs prepare for White Auditorium home to the Emporia State Hornets and the Class 5A state tournament.