TOPEKA — A lot has gone right for Joe Auer and his Heights Falcons over the past several seasons.
And the veteran Heights coach wasn’t going to do anything but praise his opponent and his own team after a gut-wrenching 72-71 overtime loss to undefeated Lansing in Friday night’s Class 5A boys semifinal at Landon Arena.
Heights battled back from five points down in the final minute of regulation to send the game to overtime tied at 63 and junior standout Semaj Hervey hit one of two free throws with 47.4 seconds remaining in overtime to put the Falcons up 71-70.
But Lansing senior Zach Jackson was fouled with 9.5 seconds left and hit both free throws to give the Lions (24-0) the win in a game that included 10 lead changes and 10 ties.
Heights’ Hervey, who led all scorers with 22 points, got a good shots on the Falcons’ final possession, but couldn’t get it to fall and Lansing grabbed the rebound as time ran out.
“What a game,” Auer said. “The resiliency we showed, the determination we showed, we played good enough to win the game and we get a great look at the end of the game, so that’s about as even of a contest as you can possibly imagine.
“There’s no shame at all in a contest that goes like that. That’s one of the best games I’ve been involved in in the postseason.’’
And although Friday’s loss was a tough one to swallow, Auer praised his team for giving itself a chance to win.
“We told them in the locker room that we know that every single one of them left everything they had out there and that’s what high school athletics is all about,’’ said Auer, whose Falcons (19-5) will play for third place at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve won our fair share and we wanted to win in the worst way. We came here to win a championship, but we played like champions. That was a championship-level game at the most important moment of the season and what more can you ask from 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids? I’m so proud to be their coach and both teams laid it on the line.’’
Lansing got 21 points and 9-of-13 shooting from Joe Lendway, a 6-foot-5 senior, while senior Joe Schneider had 19 points and Jackson 12. Senior Khalil Bailey had nine points and 18 rebounds for the Lions.
“We’ve just got good players who make plays that are veterans and they just refuse to lose,’’ said Lansing coach Rod Briggs, a former City League assistant at East. “If we had lost the game, I wouldn’t feel any different, but it was much nicer winning.’’
Sophomore Davon Gill came off the bench to score 17 points for Heights, while senior Ealy Bell and junior Tre King added 10 apiece.