JOHNSTON CITY — With just over 12 seconds left to play and West Frankfort leading 57-56, everyone in Johnston City’s Wendell Starrick Gym knew Anna-Jonesboro’s Jake Parr would get the ball.
The 6-foot-2 senior did not disappoint. He banked home a short jumper and converted the and-one with 3.1 seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats to a 59-57 win over West Frankfort in the Class 2A Johnston City Regional.
“It was a great pass from my teammate Sheldon McGrath,” Parr said. ”I got it, I pump-faked I saw (Kyle) Hammers slide by to give me a little space. I shot it, went for the bank and they ended up committing a foul. It went in. I don’t believe it.”
“We got it to Jake and he made a play,” said Anna-Jonesboro coach Mike Chamness. “We wanted to put the game on his shoulders, win or lose.”
Nothing about those final seconds surprised West Frankfort.
“Everybody in the gym knew Parr was going to catch it,” said West Frankfort coach Kevin Toney. “I haven’t watched it on tape, but I think we did a pretty good job on Parr. It’s kind of like Bob Gibson’s slider. You know it’s coming but still you can’t hit it. We knew who was going to catch it. We knew what he was going to do. That’s just a credit to them.”
Parr’s heroics saved the Wildcats from what could have been a devastating loss.
Anna-Jonesboro took a 48-40 lead into the fourth quarter, a lead that grew to 50-40 on Noah McFarland’s short jumper just 18 seconds into the quarter. However, for the second time in the game the Redbirds fought their way back from a double-digit deficit.
A Hammers’ steal and runout with 1:28 remaining pulled the Redbirds to within 56-55. After the Redbirds forced a turnover, Gavin Gaylor made a pair of free throws with just 46.3 seconds remaining, his only points of the night, to give West Frankfort a 57-56 lead.
“I was really proud of our effort,” Toney said. “We were down 10 at least twice. That sort of crystallizes what the season has been like. There have been some bumps in the road, but our kids have hung in there.”
Parr missed an opportunity to get the lead earlier when he missed a short jumper with about 17 seconds left. C.J. Johnson, who led West Frankfort with 22 points, rebounded the miss.
The Wildcats lost several precious seconds because they had two fouls to give before putting Anna-Jonesboro in the bonus. Eventually, Hammers was fouled with 12.4 seconds left, but he missed the front end of the one-and-one.
Anna-Jonesboro rebounded the miss, pushed the ball into the front court and called timeout. Chamness said the final huddle was business-like.
“I think any other year we would have freaked out,” he said. “This year we’ve been in those situations. We start five seniors. We play a bunch of older guys. We play nine guys that played last year, significant minutes.
“We were kind of built for this. We talked about that in the huddle. I think in six point games and less, we’re 9-2. It gives me gray hairs, but a win is a win.”
Parr led all scorers with 25. McGrath added 11 and McFarland 10. In addition to Johnson’s 22, Lucas Wolfe had a dozen for the Redbirds.
The win pushes the Wildcats into the regional title game against the winner of tonight’s Chester vs. Du Quoin game. West Frankfort finishes at 6-22.