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Free throws lift IRC past Mustangs

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- With his top player on the bench, Indian Rocks Christian coach Joe Frost had to hope for the best. There were six seconds left in his team's Class A, Region 3 final against Northside Christian and the Eagles clinged to a slim lead.

Two missed free throws and one near heart attack later, Frost and the Eagles advanced with a 60-57 win against the Mustangs. Indian Rocks Christian (32-3) will play in its first state semifinal against Bronson (26-8) on Wednesday at the Lakeland Center.

"That was what we thought it would be," Frost said. "I think they had us rattled early on. We did a lot of standing around watching one guy play. But we hit some key shots when we had to."

Indian Rocks Christian junior Gabe McMillen lit up the Mustangs with 30 points.

But with 6.2 seconds left, McMillen picked up his fifth foul, which sent the Mustangs' Justin Barnaky to the free-throw line with his team trailing 57-55. Barnaky, who had made nine straight free throws, hit his first shot but missed the second.

With 4.1 seconds left, Daniel Hedger hit one of two free throws for Indian Rocks Christian, and Northside Christian got the ball back with 3.1 seconds to play. On the inbounds pass, the Mustangs' Tim Graeser and IRC's Chris Curran collided near midcourt and Curran was called for a foul.

Graeser was injured and couldn't shoot the free throws, so Scott McClain came off the bench and hit the first but missed the second, making the score 58-57. Indian Rocks Christian's Ben Bailey was fouled and made both free throws to end the game.

"I expected it to be this close, but I didn't expect to be on the bench," McMillen said. "It was nerve-wracking."

Barnaky led Northside Christian (27-6) with 22 points. Deon Troupe scored 12 before fouling out with 21 seconds left. He missed all six of his free-throw attempts.

"It was the Gabe McMillen show," Northside Christian coach Chip McAllister said. "I enjoy watching him play, I really do. He's a great player. I'm happy for them. Of course we wanted to be there, but they played very well."

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