‘They won’t quit:’ Last second free throw propels Helena to area tournament championship

Published 10:51 pm Friday, February 8, 2019

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA – For the second time in three days, the Helena Huskies varsity basketball team found themselves down late in the fourth quarter, but as they’ve shown all season, no lead is safe for the opposing team as Helena gutted out an incredible 62-61 win over Calera on Friday, Feb. 8 to capture the Class 6A Area 8 tournament championship.

With the game tied 61-61, Helena had the ball in the front court with 16.7 seconds to go with a chance to win, when senior Nate Andrews pulled up for a mid-range jumper near the baseline and drew a foul with 0.1 seconds to go.

With all eyes on him, Andrews stepped to the foul line and missed the first free throw and Calera called a timeout. Out of the timeout, Andrews stepped to the line again, and this time, he drained the free throw to give the Huskies a 62-61 win as Helena students stormed the floor in celebration.

Helena head coach Billy Grant praised his senior for stepping up and being the calming aspect of Helena’s team all season.

“He’s been our leader all year and he’s the one that keeps everything calm,” Grant said. “When things get crazy, he just has a calming attitude about himself and we couldn’t do it without him.”

Overall, Helena was led by the trio of Andrews, Daunte Cave and Caden Pierce. Andrews and Cave both finished with 13 points apiece as Pierce had a team high 20 points in the win.

After a seesaw first half that saw Calera take a 31-29 lead, the Eagles began to pull away in the third and fourth quarters before Helena made its dramatic comeback.

The Eagles began to pull away late in the third quarter thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Laparris Whatley and Cornelius Brown that extended Calera’s lead to 47-42 with 1:01 remaining in the third quarter. Both Whatley and Brown finished in double figures as Whatley had 11 and Brown finished with a team high 20 points.

To cap off the third quarter, Christian Hall made a layup at the buzzer to make it 51-43 Calera. The Eagles outscored Helena 20-14 in the quarter.

The momentum for Calera carried over into the final quarter as the Eagles held a 60-52 lead with under four minutes to play.

From there, Helena fought back starting with Andrews. He drained a 3-pointer with 3:26 to go in the game that jumpstarted a 9-0 run for the Huskies.

Andrews followed up the 3-pointer with a layup and a foul to complete an and-1 play to cut Calera’s lead to 60-58 with 2:51 to play.

A minute later, Pierce was left open in the corner and buried a 3-pointer as Helena unbelievably regained the lead 61-60 with under two minutes to play.

A few series later, Helena got a stop on defense with the game tied that led to the game winning free throw by Andrews.

In the end, Grant wasn’t surprised with how his team fought back.

“They won’t quit and we made it to the basket a couple of times and didn’t finish but they kept shooting,” Grant said. “We missed a few rebounds but when we got a couple, we made some big shots. They’ve been fighting all year, and we’ve been down late in ballgames the last few times and the guys keep fighting. There’s no quit and they just believe.”

With the win, Helena will now host Russell County in the sub-regional round on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. with a shot at the Sweet Sixteen on the line.