SPARKS - Carson High led for just 54.3 seconds of its Division I playoff opener at Spanish Springs Tuesday night.
It was just enough.
Rafe King dropped in a free throw with three-tenths of a second showing on the clock to snap a 37-all tie and give the Senators a thrilling 38-37 win over Spanish Springs to reach the semifinals.
Carson will now host McQueen, a 60-59 upset winner over Douglas, on Thursday at 5 p.m. Hug and Galena will square off at 7, also at CHS, in the other semi.
It was a much different game than the regular-season match-up between the schools. In that one, Carson got the drop on Spanish Springs in the first quarter, and coasted to a 56-36 win.
This time, Carson played uphill most of the night, and that in itself can be physically and mentally draining. The Senators showed some grit, however, and kept plugging away against the Cougars, finally taking the lead for the first time with 5:43 left in the game.
"I knew it was going to be a whole lot different this time around because we were at their place," Carson coach Carlos Mendeguia said. "We kept fighting. We were down 16 to Wooster and came back to win. We played through it. These guys don't quit. I knew it was going to take some big plays."
And, there was none bigger than the one that set up King's game-winning free throw.
With the score tied at 37, Spanish Springs took a timeout with 13.1 left. Kenneth Meyer started to drive to the basket, but had the ball tipped away by Alan Cohen. Kyle Steele managed to get the loose ball to King, who roared downcourt with the clock ticking toward 0.00.
King was fouled a split-second before the final buzzer. In fact, after the whistle blew, the scoreboard showed 0.00. The officials, after a lengthy conference put three-tenths back on the clock.
"I saw a pick and roll coming," said Cohen, describing the game-saving defensive play. "I got a hand on the ball. Kyle came up with it and got it to Rafe."
King, who had to drown out the noise from the partisan crowd, dropped in the first shot and then deliberately missed the second shot. By the time the ball was rebounded, time expired.
"I wasn't that nervous because I knew I had two shots," King said. "Once I made the first one, I relaxed. I probably had a big smile on my face. All I had to do was brick the second one. I missed the second one on purpose because with three-tenths left they wouldn't have enough time to get off a shot."
The loss ended Spanish Springs' season at 15-11, and left SS coach Kyle Penney very frustrated.
"We were getting plenty of stops," he said. "We were not executing on offense."
In the last 51.4 seconds, Spanish Springs missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and then had that costly turnover forced by Cohen. Penney said his team was trying to play for the last shot when Meyer had the ball taken away.
Carson had its own share of problems down the stretch.
With the score tied at 37 and 1:19 left, Carson took a timeout and opted to play for a final shot. Matt Nolan, who finished with 11 points, took an ill-advised 3-pointer. The Senators were lucky because Tyler McCauley, who was fouled on the rebound, missed the front end of a 1 and 1.
"I wanted to run the clock down to about 7 seconds," Mendeguia said. "We were going to run a pick and pop play with Matt and Rafe."
Carson struggled from the floor early, missing five shots from inside 3 feet in the opening quarter. It was a minor miracle that the Senators only trailed 12-8 after one period.
Spanish Springs went on a 9-4 run to start the second period, opening a 21-12 lead, its biggest lead of the game. Center Austin Damoth had two buckets to key the surge.
Damoth and McCauley went to the bench shortly thereafter, and the Cougars' small lineup was blitzed 7-0 as Carson closed to 21-19 at the half. King had a free throw and basket in that span, while Cohen and Chris Lopez had a basket apiece.
"I was worried about them both (getting a third foul)," Penney said. "We had a good lead."
Neither team played well in the third quarter as the 11 combined points (7-4 Spanish Springs) would suggest. McCauley had all seven of the Cougars' points in the quarter. Carson trailed 28-23 with one quarter left.
The Senators opened the fourth quarter with six straight points to take their first lead of the game, 29-28, with 5:43 left. Cohen's layup started the surge, and then Lopez scored four straight on two free throws and a basket. The Cougars re-took the lead, 30-29, on a basket by McCauley with 5:27 remaining.
A big trey by Nolan tied the game at 34 and King followed suit to make it 37-34 with 2:40 left. Meyer tied it at 37 with a 3-pointer of his own, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.