Triway Titans

Buzzer-beating buckets by Biggs and Walker send Triway to regionals

The Triway Titans (17-8) and Manchester Panthers (17-8) squared off for the third time this season on Friday, March 9 in what became an instant classic. This time around the Principals Athletic Conference foes had the 2018 district tournament championship on the line at Wooster High School. The Titans were down as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter but refused to lose, and two prayers from the Triway bench were answered at the end of regulation and overtime. The Titans trailed the majority of the game, but another big night and big basket to beat the final buzzer of regulation from senior Gabe Walker sent the game into overtime. Then the biggest shot of senior Braden Biggs’ career swished in the face of two Panther defenders to beat the final buzzer at the end of overtime, sending the Triway faithful and head coach Ben Holt into a frenzy with the Titans earning the thrilling 69-68 win.

Triway was first to get on the scoreboard, but the Titans didn’t hold the lead again until overtime. The first quarter ended with Manchester holding a 12-9 advantage behind some sharp shooting from the Panther’s career 3-point leader, senior guard Jojo France, who knocked down two deep 3-pointers from well behind the arc. Walker led the Titans with six points in the opening quarter.

Walker added another six points to his total in the second quarter, but the rest of the Titan offense went cold while Manchester continued to extend their lead going into halftime behind senior Van Wallbrown’s five points for the quarter. The Panthers held a 28-21 lead at the break. It looked like Manchester’s defense had finally figured out the Titan offense after two previously failed attempts this season.

Triway came out for the second half and scored 17 points in the third quarter behind sophomore Bryce Biggs’ five points for the period, but Manchester’s offense was on fire and continued to show their range as the Panthers erupted for 22 points with the help of four successful 3-pointers, two of which were from France on his way to eight points for the quarter. Triway’s offense had begun to find the basket, but Manchester had extended their lead, 50-38.

The fourth quarter fireworks didn’t happen right away for Triway. In fact Manchester had pushed their lead to as much as 14 points with 6:55 left in the game, and it was 56-43 with 5:55 to go.

However, Bryce Biggs and Walker saved their best for last. Biggs hit a clutch 3-pointer and was 3-of-3 from the foul line for the quarter, but it was Walker who once again threw the Titans on his back as he relentlessly attacked the Panther double-team for 11 points while also earning one very big fat lip. Walker finished strong to the rack, drew the foul and scored on the continuation with 3:46 remaining. After stepping up to the line to complete the and-one, Walker and the Titans were back in business. The Panther lead had slipped to 56-51.

Manchester fought back and connected on buckets in the paint by Nick Beans and Sam Hettich, split by a Walker put-back, but it looked like the Panthers would take the air out of Triway’s momentum until Bo Flinner drained a timely 3-pointer for the Titans to make it 60-56 with 2:29 remaining. That is when the wheels fell off for the Panthers. Manchester only committed eight turnovers for the game, but Triway’s defensive pressure in the waning minutes of regulation forced Manchester to cough it up twice when it mattered most. With the two extra possessions on offense, Triway sophomore Kyle Sturgin made them pay with a clutch three-bomb from the left wing after a Bryce Biggs’ steal to make it a one-point game at 60-59 with 1:20 remaining.

Manchester once again added to their lead on back-to-back buckets from Beans and Hettich to push Manchester’s lead to five points with 43 seconds remaining, but Walker relentlessly drove the lane for another score with 25 seconds remaining to make 64-61.

Beans scored again for Manchester with 19 seconds to go, giving Manchester a 66-61 lead, but Bryce Biggs drew a foul on a 3-point attempt, and he was as cool as the other side of the pillow when he drained all three of his foul shots to make it a two-point deficit at 66-64 with six seconds left on the clock. France lost his balance on the resulting in-bounds play for Manchester and fell out of bounds to give the ball right back to Triway under their own basket with five seconds left in regulation.

Walker received the ball, split both defenders and scored the game-tying basket to beat the buzzer and force overtime. It was all square, 66-66, as time expired. After the dust settled, the Titan offense hustled its way to 28 points in the final quarter of regulation while the Titan defense held the Panthers to 16 points. The purple pressure forced Manchester into two key turnovers down the stretch.

In overtime Triway forced another Panther turnover when Kyle Sturgin stole the ball. On the Titans next possession, senior Braden Biggs drew the foul and made 1-of-2 freebies to give Triway their first lead, 67-66, since 6:40 of the opening quarter, but Wallbrown toed the foul line with 29 seconds left in OT and sank both attempts to give Manchester back the lead, 68-67.

Triway brought the ball up the court and worked the ball for the last possession and a chance to cap off an epic comeback. Braden Biggs drove the right side of the lane and was forced into a tough shot by Manchester’s Wallbrown, but Bryce Biggs chased down the loose rebound before it sailed out of bounds in the left corner. He skipped a cross-court pass to Flinner, who kicked it to Braden Biggs, who dribbled once to his left and pulled up for a fifteen-footer from the wing with two Panther defenders in his face to swish the game winner as time expired. Triway pulled off the never-say-die comeback, 69-68, and kept their season alive.

Biggs knew it was money as soon as he released it. “I looked up, and there was 2.4 seconds left. I knew I had to get a shot off, so I created some space and took the shot. I knew it was in as soon as I took it. This is surreal. It’s a great feeling.”

Holt was thrilled to see Biggs’ shot go in. “I almost called a timeout, but we were moving the ball. He stroked it from 15′, and whether he made that shot or not, Braden is a competitor. He is the heart and soul of our team when it comes to being selfless, and I am very proud of him. We knew it was going to be a grind. I don’t care who the opponent was, but knowing how Manchester plays, we knew it was going to be a battle. They are well coached, have some great players. I don’t know how we found a way to win, but we persevered. We got stops and made baskets when we needed them most. I couldn’t be happier for our guys. We did this a couple of times this year against some really good opponents where we would come from behind, but we could never get over the hump, but tonight we broke through and did it in a district final. I am so proud of our effort and perseverance.”

Walker led all scorers with 27 points and grabbed eight boards, finishing with one ugly lip for the Titans. Holt praised Walker’s big night. “I don’t want to take it for granted because I see what he does every day at practice and all the time in games, but he is special to watch and special to coach.”

Braden Biggs pushed the Titan offense with a dozen points, six rebounds and four assists. Bryce Biggs had 14 points and three rebounds. Kyle Sturgin and Jordan Stokes once again brought their lunch pails and hard hats with them on defense. Sturgin blocked four shots, snagged six rebounds and scored five points but none bigger than his fourth quarter 3-pointer. Stokes, a senior, blocked three shots and caused the misdirection of a few others while also snagging six caroms and chipping in three points. Flinner dished the game-winning assist and finished with seven points.

Manchester was led by France’s double-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while fellow senior Wallbrown also had 16 points to go along with four rebounds and two blocked shots. Senior Nick Beans dropped in 15 points and snagged eight boards for the Panthers while sophomore Ethan Wright finished with 13 points, four assists and three rebounds to round out Manchester’s double-digit scorers.

An unmentioned MVP of this Triway team is freshman Colton Snyder. Yet to play a memorable minute during the Titans last three victories, he graciously sacrificed his beloved number-10 uniform two of the past three games when teammates needed it. OHSAA rules prohibit a uniform with blood on it to be used in play. Braden Biggs was bloodied in the sectional final with Waynedale, and Walker took a shot at the end of regulation on this night. Snyder’s number-10 jersey was up to the task to close out both games.

“I’m always willing to help the team. It’s awesome to win a district championship, and I’m more than willing to give up my jersey the rest of our games if it helps the team. Whether it’s me playing or my jersey, I’ll be ready.”

Holt praised Snyder’s unselfishness to donate a clean uniform. “We have guys, whether it’s Colton or one of our starters, that are more than willing to do what is best for the team. That is who we are. Colton’s time will come.”

Triway will play on Wednesday, March 14 at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse for an 8 p.m. tip where they will face Lutheran East (12-13), who beat Beachwood (13-11) in the Div. III Garfield Heights District final 72-62.

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