TOUGH JOB: Switzerland County’s Austin Clark (24) grimmaces while being helped to his feet by teammate Trevor Smith (left) after Clark dived after a loose ball in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 52-44 overtime sectional semifinal win over Austin in Versailles. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
TOUGH JOB: Switzerland County’s Austin Clark (24) grimmaces while being helped to his feet by teammate Trevor Smith (left) after Clark dived after a loose ball in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 52-44 overtime sectional semifinal win over Austin in Versailles. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
VERSAILLES - After "bricking" two free throws that could have given Switzerland County some breathing room in the third quarter, Austin Clark led a big Pacer comeback in the fourth quarter and overtime to hold off Austin 52-44 and make good on a promise he made to the team's four seniors before the game.

"All I could think about when we were down late is my seniors, " Clark said of the Pacers' comeback from a 44-39 deficit with 92 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime tied 44-all. "If I was a senior I wouldn't want it to be over yet. I told them before the game if we were ever in that situation I'd do everything in my power to see that we win and take sectional home."

Clark did just that over the final 5:30 of the game when he knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:19 left and hit two free throws with 31.5 seconds to go to knot the game 44-44. He then scored the first six points of the overtime before fellow junior Braden Burk sprinted to a coast-to-coast layup with 22 seconds left in the extra period to slam the door on the Eagles and send the Pacers into tonight's sectional championship against North Decatur.

"Games have always been about runs and we just had to fire back," Clark said of the 12-0 run that clinched the win. "It took a lot of heart from our team tonight."

"We just kept fighting," Switzerland head coach B.J. McAlister said. "We really didn't do anything different. We just told our kids to keep battling. But give all the credit to Austin. I thought that was a great basketball game with two teams just really swinging at each other."

In a game that was nip-and-tuck the whole way - the two teams were tied four times and there were 12 lead changes - the Pacers led 13-12 after the first quarter and 19-18 at halftime. Austin overcame two technical fouls - one on Jermiah White and the other on head coach Joe Sibbitt - to ease ahead 33-30 at the end of the third period.

The Eagles led by as many as five in the fourth quarter before a 3-pointer by Switzerland's Chase Ritch tied it 37-37, a drive by Burk knotted it 39-39 and the 3-pointer and foul shots by Clark left the teams deadlocked 44-44 at the end of regulation.

"They were more eager and more mad after the technicals," Clark said of the Eagles. "It was definitely a turning point in the game for them. I bricked two of the four ands then we didn't score on the possession and that's when they went on their run. It took us all of the fourth quarter to tie it up and take it to overtime and win it."

While the big baskets by Clark, Burk and Ritch go down in the scorebook as the difference makers, McAlister said it was his team's defense actually turned back the Eagles.

"The thing that we did really well is we kept trying to string together stops - late in the game and especially in overtime," McAlister said. "We just got some big stops.

"When you're playing in an overtime game all buckets are big but I think our stops were ultimately bigger," McAlister added. "We were able to get some stops, gain some confidence and come down and run a play and get a shot. We did a great job of locking them down."

Austin's last really good look at the basket came with 1:32 left in regulation when 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Markus Fleenor drained a 3-pointer for his 16th point of the night to put the Eagles on top 44-39. Austin did not score again.

"They have the best collection of shooters in our sectional and when they get a lead on you they want to try to spread you out and drive you," McAlister said. "We knew we couldn't let the lead get too wide and our kids did a good job of jumping into some different defenses to try to keep them from holding the basketball."

Clark ended the night with a game-high 17 points for the Pacers while senior guard Trevor Smith scored 14, junior sharpshooter Ritch had nine and Burk came off the bench for the two big buckets in the stretch.

The win, the Pacers' ninth straight, sends the Swiss (17-4) into tonight's sectional championship against North Decatur, a 55-54 overtime upset winner over tourney host South Ripley in Friday's first semifinal.

"It's going to be a game against a team that's a heck of a lot better than their record," McAlister said of the 6-16 Chargers. "Coach (Kyle) Nobbe is as good a coach as we've seen and he'll have his team playing extremely hard. We're going to be in for another battle."

The Pacers will be going for their first sectional championship since 2006 and seventh overall. To do that, McAlister said his squad will have to continue to play with the toughness that turned back Austin Friday and the other eight victims in the Pacers' current win streak.

"Toughness. Some of the games that we've been able to win, it's just been through toughness," McAlister said. "Tough stops, tough rebounds, tough shots. When you have a group that's really tough like this group you couldn't be more proud to coach them."



at Versailles



Switzerland Co. 13 6 11 14 8 - 52

AUSTIN 12 6 15 11 0 - 44

Switzerland Co. (17-4) - (f)Clark 17, (g)Smith 14, (g)Ritch 9, (f)A. Curran 6, Burk 4, (g)Swanson 2, White 0, B. Curran 0, Tressler 0.

Austin (10-12) - (f)Fleenor 16, (f)Lesnet 10, (g)Mayfield 8, White 4, (c)Baker 2, (g)Richey 2, Vires 2, Turner 0, Hendrix 0, Dewitt 0, Spencer 0.

3-Point Goals - Switzerland Co. 4 (Ritch 3, Clark 1), Austin 5 (Fleenor 4, Lesnet 1)). Total Fouls - Switzerland Co. 16, Austin 19. Technical Fouls 2 (White, bench). Free Throws - Switzerland Co. 12-21 (57%), Austin 3-6 (50%). Fouled Out - Switzerland Co.: Ritch; Austin: None. Next Game - Austin's season ends. Switzerland Co. plays North Decatur in the championship game at 7 p.m. today.