SEELEY LAKE — With 0.6 seconds in double overtime and an undefeated District 13-C record on the line, Darby — trailing Seeley-Swan, 61-60, — went to the man with the hottest hand Friday night.
And Gabe Smith delivered.
The Darby junior drilled a game-winning buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Tigers over the Blackhawks 63-61 and stun a near-sellout crowd at Seeley-Swan High School. His high-arcing shot, released almost as soon as he touched the ball, banked in and sent the Tigers swarming after Smith.
"I knew it. Coach asked who wanted it in the huddle and I said me. I wanted it," Smith said. "I felt it tonight and I just let it fly. I can't believe it. I can't believe it happened.
"And I couldn't ask for a better team around me."
With Smith's bucket his team finished the regular season with a perfect 10-0 District 13-C record (18-1 overall) and avoided any sort of tiebreaker scenario for the regular season title with Seeley (7-2, 11-6). It's Darby's first regular-season title since 1991, according to coach Richard Griffin, and the Tigers' first ever in 13-C. Darby dropped from Class B in 2011-12.
"It feels pretty good to win the conference with a last-second shot when we had some adversity," coach Griffin said. "Both teams had adversity. It was just a hard-fought battle."
Hard fought, intense, exciting. Choose your adjective. It was everything a double-overtime, district rivalry game is supposed to be.
It was the Blackhawks who helped raise the intensity late in the game first, using a last-second 3-pointer of their own in the first overtime to force another extra period. Seeley senior Cordell Turner connected on the triple with less than 2 seconds remaining to tie the game at 53-53 and send the rowdy Blackhawk fans into a frenzy.
Turner, celebrating senior night with four other upperclassmen, finished with 10 points and a shot he'll likely never forget.
"That was huge to get us back in the hunt and give us new life there. It was a big shot," Seeley coach Michael Haines said. "It was fun, that part of it."
Then came the second overtime and another unforgettable basket. It was the Blackhawks' Chance Johnson — who scored all of Seeley's 13 points in the first quarter — who again got his team started. He hit a free throw to give the home team a 54-53 lead.
But Smith's long-range shot couldn't be stopped. The junior hit two 3-pointers on the Tigers next two possessions to give the Tigers a 59-54 lead with 2:40 remaining. Of Smith's five 3-pointers for the game, four came after regulation.
"Gabe's routinely been a gamer in these clutch situations this year. You can see it in his eyes when it happens," Griffin said. "He had confidence in his shot. He wanted the ball. He felt it."
But Seeley again battled back, as Hunter Shelmerdine erased a three-point deficit by connecting on a layup and-1. With 42.4 seconds remaining, the two squads were tied again at 60-apiece.
Johnson broke the tie 20 seconds later for Seeley after forcing a Darby turnover and taking a foul at the rim in transition. The senior — who scored a game-high 22 points — hit on one of his two free throws.
That allowed Darby to attack the rim on its ensuing possession. A blocked shot and a scrum sent the basketball flying out of bounds with a heart-stopping amount of time remaining on the scoreboard. The referees signaled Darby basketball with less than 1 second remaining. Coach Griffin called a timeout.
"The original play was to get it to Dylan on a curl," said Smith, referring to Dylan Parks, one of Darby's senior captains, who also finished with 19 points. "I was kind of our last resort. (Nelson Smith) kicked it to me and I just let it go."
The basket banked home as the buzzer rang and the Tigers swarmed the celebrating Smith beyond half court.
Seeley-Swan girls 59, Darby 44
The Darby boys weren't the only squad celebrating a district-unbeaten streak Friday night. Seeley's girls used a strong second half to top Darby 59-44.
And the Blackhawks have been using a talented senior class — six strong — all season long.
"They've put in a lot of work. This senior group didn't get to play a lot of time until last year, and they've worked their butts off to move in," Seeley coach Mike Robbins said.
Ashley Miller led the upperclass bunch with 12 points, eight coming in a back-and-forth first quarter that saw the Blackhawks holding a slim 14-10 lead.
"Tonight was really a testament to how much of a family we are and how much we like to lift each other up and bring each other up," Miller said. "Whoever is the leading scorer one night, we always just want to get everyone in the books.
"It's really an honor to have such a close team to play with on the court. It makes it more than basketball."
To prove Miller's point, it was actually freshman Sariah Maughan who led the Blackhawks in scoring Friday with 13 points and eight other girls on Seeley scored.
Darby, which trailed by just three points at halftime, 29-26, were led in scoring by TeaAnna Rouse (15 points) and Casey Ehmann (12). Freshman Amber Anderson added nine and junior Taylor Wohlers added a pair.
The Blackhawks still have work to close out the regular season unbeated. Seeley (9-0, 13-5) takes on Victor Saturday. The Tigers closed out the regular season in third place at 6-4, 10-8. Both squads have the District tournament forthcoming in Frenchtown slated for next Friday.