In Play with Tom Markowski

Athens makes 10 free throws in final two minutes and defeats Oak Park, 74-70, to keep hold of first place in the OAA White

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

State Champs! Sports Network

Troy – Taylor McCaskill felt the pressure along with his teammates at Troy Athens. Oak Park had outscored Athens 21-4 in the fourth quarter to take a 66-60 lead with 2:15 remaining.

But Athens is senior oriented and this experience paid off as the Red Hawks pulled out a 74-70 victory in an important Oakland Activities Association White Division game on Friday at Athens.

Athens (10-8) remains alone in first place with a 7-1 record. Oak Park (9-5) is in third at 5-2 and Pontiac (10-6), after defeating Troy, 36-27, on Friday is in second at 6-1. Athens hosts Pontiac on Tuesday in a game that will likely decide the division champion.

Athens was 10-for-12 from the free throw line in the final 2:09. McCaskill was 5-6 during this stretch and his two free throws with two seconds left sealed the victory.

Of Athens top six players, five are seniors. Only McCaskill, a 6-1 guard, is not. He’s a freshman, one of many in the area who have had a major impact on their respective team’s success. Foster Loyer of Clarkston, Jalen Tobias of Detroit Renaissance and Thomas Kithier of Macomb Dakota are other top freshmen that quickly come to mind.

McCaskill has been a starter since the fifth game of the season and he’s learned his role well amongst the many upperclassmen.

The one senior that has helped McCaskill’s development the most is Devin Terry, another starter in the backcourt. Terry has been like a big brother to McCaskill this season.

“I was very nervous at the free throw line,” McCaskill said. “I was very nervous.”

We heard you the first time.

And it’s understandable. This is a game Athens nearly threw away, literally. The Red Hawks had 10 turnovers in the first three quarters, a good number for any team. They had built a 49-33 lead after a Terry basket with 3:40 left in the third and were executing well on both ends. Oak Park then went on a 10-2 run before McCaskill scored to push the lead back to 53-45 after the third quarter.

Athens turned the ball over seven times in the fourth, the last coming after a Howard McInnis basket that gave Oak Park a 64-60 lead. That last turnover led to a Devin Mills basket that completed a 33-11 Oak Park run.

“We came out and pressed and got some turnovers, and easy baskets in the third,” Athens coach Dave Scott said. “When we do that we get rolling. Nick Santoni (20 points) played well and shot it well, and Taylor made some free throws down the stretch.

“When we lost that lead I was nervous.”

Heck, now everybody is nervous. But the word panic wasn’t used that’s because the Red Hawks played with poise when it looked like Oak Park had all the momentum.

After a Santoni basket tied the game at 66-66 with 1:22 left Mills made a free throw to give Oak Park a 67-66 lead with 1:12 remaining. Terry’s two free throws gave Athens the lead for good with 53.9 seconds left.

A McCaskill free throw gave Athens a 69-67 and even when he missed the second McCaskill got the rebound that led to a Santoni free throw. Santoni made two more followed by McCaskill’s final two.

Mills led Oak Park with 18 points and McInnis had 17.

McCaskill had 18 points and Terry added 13 points and 10 assists for Athens.

“We’re playing our best right now,” McCaskill said. “We finally found out how each other plays. We had some miscommunication early in the season.

“Devin drives me in the right direction. As a senior, he’s a good mentor for me.”