The Wildcats were up 43-33 just moments into the fourth quarter. Dal Nesbitt had just hit a big three-pointer to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the day, and the tough defense the Wildcats became known for all season was in full force. Cade Nesbitt had just grabbed his fourth steal of the game, and DJ Lazelle and Sam Molner came through with big blocks on consecutive shots by the Indians. But just as it looked like the ‘Cats had the game in their clutches, it began to slowly slip away.
It was one of the toughest matchups the Wildcats faced all year, and with a number-one versus number-two seed battle, it was a tossup as to who would get the upper hand. This was only the second time Wilmington/Twin Valley High School has made it to the final, while Danville had lost the previous three years in a row. The Wildcats needed to play aggressive, but tight, defense, and they did just that, using a zone defense and grabbing steals early. Kyle Johnson was a huge part of the Wildcats attention and in the first quarter alone he managed seven of his team’s 13 points. Colin Lozito led the Wildcats in the first with five points. Cade and Dal Nesbitt each hit three-pointers as sophomore DJ Lazelle came in to draw the defense into the paint, and the ‘Cats went up 15-13 at the end of the first.
The second frame was more of the same as Twin Valley caused turnovers, but also couldn’t hit shots from close or long range with any consistency. Danville was able to corral multiple offensive rebounds and capitalize on second-chance points. Patrick White scored eight points in the quarter, including an off-balance shot at the end of the half to tie the game 24-24. Dal Nesbitt had five of his 13 in the quarter.
The Wildcats began to pull away late in the third quarter but they also began to enter foul trouble. Lozito, Nesbitt, and Lazelle would trade shots with Johnson to end the quarter and go up five at 38-33. The fourth quarter would be the final test and with a 10-point lead early, the Wildcats began to look slightly panicked, and began playing keep-away to run the clock. With four minutes left, White got a big steal off an inbound pass to Lozito and took it in for a layup and Lozito’s fourth foul on top for a three-point play. Just like that, the momentum shifted, and with four minutes to go, the Indians began to chip away at the lead. The Indians hit a big shot, followed by a pair of free throws by Johnson to put the Wildcats’ lead at only two, 43-41, with 2:30 to go. Cade Nesbitt fouled out on a loose ball scramble and for a moment lay on the court in disbelief, a moment of heartbreak for Nesbitt, who had to leave his teammates on the court to try and calm the storm.
The Wildcats still had the lead but in the next two minutes slowly gave up three points and forever the lead. The Wildcats had two chances to tie the game in the last minute, but a travel and two final shot attempts provided no relief for the Wildcats, and following the last seconds’ foul game, the Wildcats lost 50-43, giving up 17 straight points.
“It was the perfect storm,” said Twin Valley coach Chris Brown, about the fourth quarter. “Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and you have to credit Danville. Down 10, they could have folded up the tent, but they kept fighting and kept us uneasy. We just made some poor decisions and poor plays and it all happened very fast.”
Lozito ended with 12 points and eight assists, while Dal Nesbitt had 13 points and four rebounds. Eli Park, who had another phenomenal defensive performance, gathered a team-high eight rebounds, while Lazelle had six rebounds to add to his six points. Cade Nesbitt, the team’s Swiss army knife had six points, four steals, and two blocks, and Molner ended with four points and five rebounds. White and Johnson each had 20 points for the Indians.
With one of the most successful seasons Twin Valley’s boys’ basketball program has ever had in the books, Brown said that his players showed hard work and character. “The best thing about them is they display character in all situations. We lost the championship, but no one pouted, we looked the other team in the eye, and were good sports. The work ethic was tremendous and our seniors led the way and rubbed off on our younger players, and left their mark on this program.
“It was a fun experience,” continued Brown, “and I hope they learned some life lessons to go along with it. Those seven seniors will be truly missed by the community, their teammates, and me. They were tremendous.”