Last-second free throws earn Troy Christian trip to state

03/17/2013

Three seconds left. Tied game. Three free throws. Just like Grant Zawadzki envisioned growing up.

The Troy Christian sophomore sank two of his three tosses, lifting the Eagles to the Division IV regional championship with a 51-49 win against Delphos St. John’s at Trent Arena on Friday. The Blue Jays’ 3-pointer from 22 feet out bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer.

A program that managed six tournament wins from 2000-2012 — and has matched that with this incredible postseason run — is going to Columbus. Troy Christian (26-2) plays Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (23-4) at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the state semifinals at the Schottenstein Center.

“I dreamed of this since I was a little kid,” said Zawadzki, who finished with 12 points. “I was a ball boy and was part of some of the best teams in the state with my grandpa (Ray Sr.) coaching, my brother (Kellen) playing. Nobody has ever gotten this far in my family. For me to be the first is incredible.”

Well, he’ll have to share it. His dad, Ray Jr., coaches Eagles Nation.

The Eagles overcame a 10-point deficit midway through the third quarter with clutch baskets from senior Nathan Kirkpatrick (15 points). Senior Christian Salazar (14) and junior Spencer Thomas stepped up big in the fourth, scoring the Eagles’ first eight points of the quarter, giving Troy Christian a 46-40 lead with 5:12 to play. The lead changed four times in the final 3:32.

None more dramatic than with three seconds left. A Zawadzki free throw tied it 49-49 with two minutes left. St. John’s missed a shot 20 seconds later. Troy Christian then drained the clock until Zawadzki attempted a 3-pointer and was fouled — depending which side fans were sitting — on the arm.

“I think he got him on the arm. It was a good call,” DSJ’s coach Aaron Elwer said.

Zawadzki, an 81.5-percent free-throw shooter, missed the first then connected on the next two.

“When I work out I always put myself in this situation,” he said. “One to tie, two to win to go to the state finals. No time on the clock. To actually step up I wasn’t that nervous. I just did what I’ve been doing since a young ‘un.”

This time it was for real.