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FANTASTIC FINISH: Karns City Rallies From 10 Down in Fourth to Beat Otto-Eldred on Buzzer-Beater in D9 Class 2A Semifinals

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — When Cole Johnston cut to the hoop, he expected company.

Instead, he found no one.

The freshman forward on the Karns City boys basketball team caught an inbound pass from Hobie Bartoe wide open under the hoop with two seconds remaining against Otto-Eldred on Tuesday night.

His eyes swelled in surprise as he went up and laid the basketball softly off the glass for the winning points in a 50-48 triumph at Tippin Gymnasium, sending the Gremlin bench into a celebratory frenzy as players mobbed each other on the court.

(Pictured above, Karns City’s Taitle Beighley was named the Hager Paving Incorporated Player of the Game)

It was the easiest bucket of the night Karns City in a tightly contested District 9 Class 2A semifinal game.

The only worry Johnston had in that split second was missing.

“That was in my head,” he said, smiling.

No worries.

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Johnston’s game-winner capped a 10-point, fourth-quarter comeback for Karns City. Things certainly looked bleak heading into the final eight minutes for the Gremlins, down 43-33.

It came seconds after Karns City had another chance to win, but had a pass swatted away under the hoop and out of bounds with 2.7 seconds on the clock.

Otto-Eldred was understandably preoccupied with denying Karns City star Taite Beighley. Three Terrors roamed with Beighley near the 3-point line, leaving Johnston alone while breaking to the hoop.

“They all have good vision,” said Karns City coach Zach Kepple. “It was just great team basketball. Cole was open, and Hobie saw it. I didn’t think it would be that wide open.”

For Johnston, it was one of the biggest moments of his young career. He missed half of the basketball season while recovering from an injury he suffered as the starting quarterback late in the football campaign.

When he returned, he was instantly one of the first players off the bench and a key part of the Gremlins’ rotation.

“He’s very talented,” Kepple said. “I told the guys right in that moment (during the timeout), ‘I trust every single one of you guys. We drew it up for Taite, but any one of you guys can knock it down. I fully believe in all of your abilities. Whoever has it, take the biggest advantage of it.’”

Johnston did.

Karns City, though, had a lot of work to do prior to those waning seconds.

Down by 10, the Gremlins began chipping away thanks to a press. It was the same press Clarion-Limestone used and Otto-Eldred had fits with in a regular-season matchup, a Terrors’ loss to the Lions.

Beighley hit the biggest shot of the game, other than Johnston’s game-winner, pump-faking, settling himself, and then swishing a 3-pointer with a little more than two minutes remaining to close Karns City to 48-46.

“They had a great game plan,” Beighley said. “We had to work for every shot the whole game. It was tough. I just felt like we needed one. I got him in the air and I knew I had to hit it and it went in. We were right back in it.”

Bartoe then got a steal and layup 40 seconds later to tie the score.

Karns City got a turnover with 90 seconds remaining in the game and Beighley dribbled time off the clock to set up the dramatics in the final seconds.

“They were chipping away, but we missed four or five layups,” said Otto-Eldred coach Derrick Francis. “If we don’t miss those layups, they’re out of that.”

Karns City got off to fast start, leading 10-2 four minutes in and 16-9 at the end of the first.

The Gremlins extended their lead to 22-13, but the Terrors finally got hot from the floor.

Otto-Eldred went on a 16-2 run to take a 29-24 advantage and extended that lead to 10 by the fourth.

Karns City, though, was undaunted.

“We’re a good basketball team and we said at the end of the third quarter that some of us our seniors and this is our last chance,” Beighley said. “We don’t have another one after this and that really lit a fire under us.”

Kepple also said running the gauntlet of the tough Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference schedule also helped the Gremlins when things got tough.

“We’ve been in situations like that before,” Kepple said. “We’ve been down and we just needed to get a stop and bucket. These guys, they don’t hang their heads. They fight. They fight for everything. The seniors bring that intensity and mentality in practice and that’s why it works out for us in game-time situations. They’re always ready to compete. They never considered themselves out of it.”

Beighley scored a game-high 15 points. Jacob Callihan added 12 for Karns City.

Otto-Eldred had three players in double-digits. Manning Splain led the way with 14, Braxton Caldwell added 13 and Landon Francis pitched in 12.

Caldwell was a handful for Karns City, especially early and on the glass. Caldwell had 11 points in the first half, several on offensive put backs.

“He crushed us on the boards,” Kepple said. “They shot really well in the second and third quarters as well.”

Otto-Eldred is still alive. The Terrors can get into the PIAA Class 2A playoffs with a third-place consolation win on Friday against Clarion-Limestone. That game is at a site and time to be determined.

“We lost to Clarion-Limestone (last year in the district final) and Clarion-Limestone was out in the first round (of the state playoffs),” Coach Francis said. “We went to the final four (in the state tournament), so it’s irrelevant. That’s how our kids are born and raised and we’re just tough. I’m not scared to play anybody.”

Karns City will play for District 9 Class 2A title against Redbank Valley on Saturday.

There won’t be a lot of time to celebrate this victory before getting back to work.

“We always get something to eat afterwards,” Kepple said. “These guys like Sheetz. I’m sure they’re going to celebrate with some milkshakes and things like that. Then it’s right back to work tomorrow. Whoever it’s going to be, it’s going to be a heck of a District 9 championship. We’re looking forward to competing in it. The seniors, this whole team, has worked super hard. They absolutely deserve it.”

Karns City and Moniteau sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Thinkdolphin Web Design.