NEGAUNEE - Underdog Chassell had enough 3-point shots in its arsenal to stay close to favored Forest Park on Monday night.
But it was the free throws that ran out when the Panthers needed them most in the waning seconds of the Trojans' 49-47 victory in a Class D regional semifinal boys basketball game at Negaunee's Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium.
FP (14-8) advances to the 7 p.m. Wednesday regional championship game back in Negaunee against North Central, which defeated Superior Central 64-61 in Monday's opener.
Chassell’s Evan Huhta, right, tries to block the shot of Forest Park’s Raymond Tomasik during an?MHSAA Class D regional semifinal on?Monday at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Chassell (11-10) trailed for most of the game, but never by more than six points after making seven triples.
Then came three straight trips to the free-throw line in the game's final 38 seconds, which all came up dry.
The Panthers took a 47-46 lead with 1:01 to go when sophomore Brant Ryynanen hit a pair of free throws. But he and senior Carson Ryynanen both missed the front end of one-and-ones after that, while Forest Park went to the Chassell playbook as junior Jeff Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the left baseline to put the Trojans up 49-47.
FP's lead was still two when Chassell senior Josh Pietila was fouled while taking a shot with one second remaining.
When Pietila's first free-throw try was on target but a bit too hard to fall through, he was forced to throw the second attempt at the rim, but the bounce didn't make it to rebounders Carson Ryynanen or Evan Huhta and the clock ran out.
"Overall, we didn't have any energy," Trojans coach Mike Nocerini said. "Maybe our guys were in awe of the place, with the crowd and loud noise.
"But I told our kids to believe that if we kept it close, we could still win it."
Three Trojans echoed the same answer when asked what was the key to their team's success.
"Ball pressure," was said in unison by senior Derek Aberly and juniors Jeff Johnson and Austin Snell.
"We wanted to push the pace," Snell said, with Aberly adding, "If we play our game and keep up the intensity, that's when we do our best."
Despite their late free-throw misses, it was Pietila and the Ryynanens who made it all mean something as they combined to sink all the Panthers' 3s. In fact, all 12 of Pietila's points came in groups of three, including several that were taken from three and four feet behind the arc.
"We knew we had to be really aggressive on the boards," Chassell coach Steve Spahn said as each team logged 35 rebounds.
"Defensively, we had to take care of the quickness of Snell and (sophomore Lee) Graff. Crystal Falls got a few easy baskets when we had lapses. That was a key in the game - we'd get a little run going, then they'd make another easy one."
Johnson led all scorers with 17 points, including a pair of 3s, while Aberly added 12 and Graff had six points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
Carson Ryynanen led Chassell scorers with 13 points and added seven rebounds and four assists, while Huhta had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Pietila pulled in six rebounds.
Chassell held brief leads in every quarter as neither team had a lead of more than two points at the end of any quarter.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.