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By JASON EPP
Leader & Times
HUGOTON – Payson Slater only made one of his three free throw attempts Friday evening at the Blue and Red Classic. But the one that went through tied the Hooker Bulldogs with the Ulysses Tigers with just three seconds left in regulation. And after the Tigers buzzer-beating attempts clanged off, the Bulldogs found a way to win in overtime, 39-36.
“We missed a ton of easy shots and couldn’t hit from the outside,” said Bulldog coach Bud Valerius. “Players that usually made the plays today just didn’t. We learned tonight that the one thing you can control is how you defend. To hold that team to 36 points including overtime, they defended their tails off until the end.”
Those were not the only clutch free throws for the Bulldogs. With eleven seconds left in overtime and Hooker leading by one, Joe Bean (8 points) stepped to the line, and sunk both giving the Bulldogs their final margin of victory.
At the start of the game Hooker looked as though they might dominate the Tigers. Midway through the first period Bean hit a fall away jumper and was fouled. Bean sank it, then Ulysses forward Garrett Kissell had to head to the bench with his second foul. Seconds later Slater (9 points) went baseline for the easy basket and the Bulldogs led 8-2 with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
Alex Sanchez’ (10 points) three to start the second pushed the Bulldog lead to 7. But four straight turnovers by the Bulldogs and two threes by Ulysses, and the lead had vanished in 77 seconds. Hooker did regain a two point lead at the half (17-15).
A scoring drought in the third almost gave the game away to the Tigers, as Hooker struggled to find the bottom of the net. Ulysses outscored Hooker 11-3 in the third to take a 26-20 lead into the fourth.
Hooker still found themselves down five with just two minutes left, but found a way to get back in the game.
“We got a couple of key steals and hit some big shots down the stretch,” said Valerius.
With the win Hooker faces tournament host Hugoton in the championship.