By Chris Yow
CULLEOKA — Rarely is there a basketball game featuring Santa Fe and Culleoka that doesn’t create drama. Following a 62-59 overtime win for the Warriors on Tuesday night, the drama will pinnacle with each team leaving their fate to chance.
On Wednesday, coaches will travel to Richland where District 10-A representatives will meet to decide seeding on the district tournament. With identical 5-3 district records and a split of their contests, a coin flip will determine which team hosts in the tournament semifinals.
Homecourt advantage in this series has proven vital this season, as each team earned the win when hosting.
“It just makes everything easier when you’re at home,” Culleoka coach Mike Lovett said. “The atmosphere and your routine is a big deal.”
The Warriors leaned on that atmosphere and shooting aesthetic on Tuesday. Culleoka was 23-of-27 from the free throw line, including being nearly perfect (13-of-15) in regulation.
“It’s so much better when you’re shooting at home,” Lovett said.
Erik Mick was a perfect 10-for-10 from the line, as he poured in a team-high 25 points in the win. Being at home was a big factor for him, he said.
“It’s a way different game here than there. The crowd helps us out a lot more. The atmosphere helps us out,” he said. “Coach is always trying to get me to be more aggressive, and I was feeling it (Tuesday night).”
The two teams traded buckets the entire first quarter, with Culleoka ahead 15-13 at the end of the period. In the second quarter, the Warriors were able to force Santa Fe into tough shots and also convert on the offensive end.
The Warriors ended the second quarter on an 8-0 run and took a 32-23 into the break.
“We have to play a first half,” Santa Fe coach Brad Slaughter said. “We came out and did what we do really well in the second half, but we didn’t in the first.
“I thought Culleoka played a great game.”
In the second half, Santa Fe rallied back, and held the Warriors to just two field goals in the third and fourth quarters. It was the accuracy at the free throw line — and the Wildcats’ inaccuracy — that made the difference.
Santa Fe was 11-for-18 in the game, including missing the front end of a 1-and-1 bonus with 1:15 to go that would have given them a lead.
“They hit their free throws down the stretch, and that was the difference in the game,” Brad Slaughter said.
Santa Fe junior guard Andy Slaughter knocked down three free throws to tie the game with 2:04 to play, but neither team was able to score before the end of regulation. The Wildcats had a chance with under a minute to play, but Will Monhollen was called for a traveling violation when he took the pass from Slaughter with 1.6 seconds left.
“They were keying on me, so somebody was going to be open. They weren’t going to let me take the shot,” he said.
The elder Slaughter wanted his sharpshooting son to be the guy taking that final shot, but he also has to trust his instinct.
“Andy’s our leader. He’s the guy we want shooting it down the stretch all the time. He’s the leader on our team, second to nobody — including me,” he said.
In overtime, Slaughter did hit a career milestone at the line when he crossed the 1,000 point mark. A bittersweet moment, as it came in a loss.
“It feels good to have gotten there, but at the end of the day we still lost. I’m not too happy about that,” he said.
His father and coach had a good feeling that was going to be his reaction.
“I know he won’t be happy with 1,000 and a loss. It’s still a great milestone for him as a junior,” he said.
Lovett said his team held a meeting following Monday night’s loss to McEwen to rally themselves before this game, and he was pleased with their effort.
“That was not the team that played (Monday),” he said. “Something just clicked for us.”
Culleoka 62, Santa Fe 59 (OT)
S 13 10 12 11 13 — 59
C 15 17 8 6 16 — 62
Santa Fe (59) — Colton Steward 5, Tanner Bryan 8, Will Monhollen 6, Westin McClanahan 3, Andy Slaughter 22, Josh Martin 6, Auden Slaughter 9
Culleoka (62) — Tavon Bagsby 7, Landon Andrews 15, Cooper Parks 7, Erik Mick 25, Hunter Harris 2, Ranger Graham 3 Chris Hutcherson 2, Blake Delk 1
3-pointers — Santa Fe 10 (An. Slaughter 3, Monhollen 2, Martin 2, Au. Slaughter 2, McClanahan), Culleoka 5 (Mick 3, Bagsby, Andrews)
Photos by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports