Emotional Bulldogs edge Hawks
Sullivan's rebound bucket at :02 gives Harrisburg, 39-37 win

HARRISBURG - Gallatin County could not have scripted an ending of its semifinal game against Harrisburg any better.

A tie score with 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Hawks in possession of the ball.

Everyone was expecting either a last second shot and a victory or nothing worse than overtime.

Harrisburg, however, came up with a big defensive play and got a break on a turnover that led to a rebound basket by T.A. Sullivan with :02 left.

That basket gave the Bulldogs a 39-37 win over the second-seeded Hawks.

The victory, just the ninth of the season for the 'Dawgs, sends them into the regional title game Friday night against long-time Saline County rival Eldorado.

The Sullivan rebound put-back was set up by Alex Holler's drive to the basket.

A Gallatin County defender got his hand on the shot attempt, which fell into the hands of Sullivan, who quickly stuck it home.

After consecutive time-outs, first by Gallatin County and then Harrisburg, the Hawks inbounds pass sailed through several hands and out of bounds as the final buzzer went off.

"T.A. Sullivan hit the big shot late but he helped us win this game because of the other things he did tonight." said Harrisburg coach Randy Smithpeters, talking about how he helped keep the Hawks offense off balance.

With Gallatin County holding the ball and 5-7 junior point-guard Trent Wargel in control dribbling through Harrisburg traffic, the Bulldogs' Kolby Smithpeters reached in a deflected the ball.

The loose ball wound up in Smithpeters' hands as he raced down the court and was fouled by Gallatin County's Josh Gill with :37 remaining.

But Smithpeters, normally a good marksman from the line, missed the 1-and-1 opportunity and Sullivan fouled a Hawk player on the rebound attempt, which gave the ball back to Gallatin County.

Again, the scenario was set up perfectly for the Hawks.

Nevertheless a fluke of a play resulted in a costly turnover, giving the ball back to Harrisburg.

Gill caught a high pass thrown his way near the right sidelines, which caused him to be a bit off balanced.

As he attempted to get control of the ball by dribbling it, the ball glanced off of his leg out of bounds to give the ball back to Harrisburg.

"That is just part of the game. We have two of the best ball handlers in the state in Wargel and Gill, but tonight the breaks went against us at the end." said Gallatin County coach Robert 'Radar' Patton. "But we said back at the beginning of the year that our motto was 'No Excuses.' And we are not going to make any now."

The game opened with neither team getting in any sort of hurry on offense.

Gill, who gave the Hawks instant offense off the bench all season long, canned a 3-pointer at the 4:30 mark to put his team up 7-6.

But this would be the only 'trifecta' of the night for the Hawks.

Gallatin County picked up five early fouls, which normally wouldn't make that big of a difference in the first quarter.

However all five were shooting fouls which sent the Bulldogs to the line.

Smithpeters, Holler, Chris Crank and Kevin Williams combined to convert 7-of-10 charities and the end result was a 10-9 lead at the first quarter horn.

The Hawks got the lead back at 11-10 when Aaron Casteel made a steal and scored on a fast-break lay up with just seconds gone in the second frame.

However Harrisburg then made its first big run of the game to take a lead it would never relinquish.

Crank scored on a nice spin move in the lane, followed by a turnaround 10-footer by Sullivan.

Smithpeters closed the six-point scoring sprint with a length of the court drive and suddenly Harrisburg had a 16-11 advantage.

Gallatin County's John Bean got loose underneath the Hawks basket and scored on a nice move while being fouled by Sullivan.

His subsequent free-throw cut the Harrisburg lead to 18-16.

A Sullivan free-throw with :57 left before intermission ended the first half scoring at 19-16.

Absent from the scoring column in the first half was Wargel, who got things going a bit in the fourth quarter but was held in check for most of the contest by the Harrisburg defense.

"We didn't expect a box-and-1 tonight, so you have to give coach Smithpeters' credit." said Patton about the way Harrisburg blanketed the Hawks guard. "Their whole team did a good job defensively on us."

In the third quarter, after a Brandon Naas tip in got Gallatin County within two at 20-18, Harrisburg went on its biggest run of the night to temporarily take control of the game.

During this Harrisburg run Bean, who is one of the Hawks top defenders in the middle, picked up his fourth foul and had to go to the bench.

HB's Holler, a 6-4 sophomore, got the string going with a pair of buckets.

A short bank shot in the paint followed by a nice baseline drive pushed the lead to 24-18.

After a Casteel lay in stopped the run momentarily, Smithpeters and Sullivan both cashed in on rebound baskets and the score was 28-20 Bulldogs.

"Shot selection and rebounding, that is what got us tonight." said Patton, while pointing to a chalkboard in the dressing room where he had written it for the players to see.

However a mental lapse by Harrisburg and some quick hands by the Hawks got GC right back into the game.

Casteel scored five-straight points. Sullivan fouled him after a nifty move to the basket.

His free throw cut the margin to five. He then dropped in a 15-footer from near the free throw line.

Oldham completed the run with a pair of free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket.

Harrisburg committed three-straight turnovers that resulted in the Hawks rally to make it 28-27.

"We got the lead and some distance but then we turned it over three times and let them right back in the game." added Smithpeters, who notched his 200th victory.

The Hawks finally got over the hump and pulled even in the opening four minutes of the final quarter.

A 6-1 run, fueled by a pair of baskets by Wargel, got things even with 4:07 left.

His 18-footer hit home from the left side of the paint, which got the Hawks within one at 32-31.

After a Bulldog trip where Sullivan hit 1-of-2 from the foul line, Wargel struck again.

This time he scored in the lane to even things at 33-all.

Crank put down two free throws after drawing Naas' fifth foul with 3:31 remaining to give the Bulldogs the lead back briefly.

But Oldham's turn around jumper in the lane tied the game again at 35.

Then Smithpeters and Bean traded points.

Smithpeters hit a shot on a drive down the left baseline while Bean calmly hit two free throws.

Casteel then took a charge on a drive by Crank to set up the final moments of the game, which ended the Hawks season and allowed Harrisburg to move on.

"I am so proud of these kids. People tend to forget that these boys are 15, 16 and 17 year old kids and they are going to make some mistakes," added Patton. "But this is something we can build on for next year. I guarantee that next year if we get in this same situation late in a game, he (Wargel) will have the ball in his hands again."

Casteel led the Hawks with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Oldham added nine and Bean seven in the low scoring affair.

Although Gallatin County shot nearly 50 percent from the field for the game (14-30) this very good 3-point shooting club hit only 1-of-14 shots from behind the arc.

The Bulldogs (9-18) got 12 points from Sullivan, nine points from Crank and eight each from Smithpeters and Holler.

Harrisburg out rebounded Gallatin County 21-14 but hit on just 11-20 from the foul line for the game, 4-of-9 in the second half.

"This week has been tough on us emotionally after what has transpired in the past few days here at Harrisburg High School." added Smithpeters, referring to an automobile accident that claimed the lives of two Harrisburg athletes. Joshua T. Shea and Heather Mitchell were killed Saturday night. "Our team spent the whole day together, since this afternoon when we had the funeral here at the gym. Those two have been our thoughts and prayers since the accident."

Gallatin County's Kyle Oldham dribbles past Harrisburg's Chris Crank during the first quarter.
(Jack Bullock Photo)