HOT SPRINGS -- Jerome Pace is going out on top.
The McGehee boys basketball coach saw his Owls hold off 6-3A Conference rival Drew Central 52-49 on Friday afternoon in the Class 3A state championship game at Bank of the Ozarks Arena, capping a 31-year coaching career that resulted in his school's first state championship.
Pace has been at McGehee since 2003 and began his coaching career at Star City in 1987, where he spent 10 seasons before going to Dermott for six seasons.
"It's one of those things that you never imagined in your life would happen," said Pace, 53, of winning a state championship in his final game. "You start doubting yourself. Am I the one to be able to take them and put them where they need to be at? All I can say is the good Lord is always on our side."
On Friday, Pace's senior point guard allowed him to leave the profession on a high note.
Zac Henry drew a charge on Drew Central sophomore guard Trenton Eubanks with 17 seconds left, then broke a 49-49 tie with a layup with nine seconds remaining to give McGehee a 51-49 lead.
"It was a chess match there for a minute," Pace said. "The breaks worked at the right time."
Drew Central had an opportunity to tie the game with 1.7 seconds remaining, but sophomore guard Zy Chavis missed two free throws. McGehee senior forward Javier Robinson got the rebound, was fouled with 0.6 seconds left, then made one of two free throws to set the final score.
Pirates Coach C.J. Watson said he didn't want to blame the officiating down the stretch, especially with Eubanks picking up the offensive foul with the game tied.
"They got a lot of 50/50 calls in the game," Watson said about the officiating. "We had a lot of opportunities to win the ballgame."
Henry led the Owls (28-4), who shot 52.9 percent (18 of 34) from the floor, with 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting and added 9 rebounds. He was the only Owls player who scored at least 10 points.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Henry said. "It's great to be the one to do it."
Sophomore guard Travarus Shead led the Pirates (29-5) with 14 points and six rebounds. Junior guard Zeb Trantham had 12 points, while senior guard Monteil Daniels added 10 points. Drew Central finished 17-of-53 (32.1 percent) shooting.
Drew Central led 38-37 entering the fourth quarter, but McGehee took a 39-38 lead with 7:28 remaining on junior guard Coryontae Smart's jumper. The two teams would exchange several leads in the fourth quarter, then Daniels made two free throws with 1:24 left to give the Pirates a 49-48 lead. Henry tied the game at 49-49 with 1:08 remaining, making one of two free throws.
The Owls trailed 17-7 with 3:11 left in the first quarter and were down 25-19 with 4:08 remaining in the second quarter. However, McGehee finished the first half on a 10-0 run to lead 29-25 at halftime. Henry's three-point play gave the Owls their first lead, 26-25, with 2:32 left in the half.
"I told them we had to play McGehee basketball. We weren't playing McGehee basketball," Pace said. "They were playing at the pace we should have been playing at. I just kept telling them, 'Two points at a time and a stop. Two points at a time and a stop.' "
McGehee defeated Drew Central for the fourth time in five games this season. For Pace, it was fitting for the Owls to end their season with the Pirates.
"We beat them three times," Pace said. "Sometimes you take those things for granted. They had a good defensive scheme. In the end, we finally got some breaks."
McGehee guard Zac Henry won MVP honors in the Class 3A boys championship game Friday after drawing a charge with 17 seconds left, then making the game-winning layup with nine seconds left. Henry finished with 25 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals.
McGehee’s Daryla Polite dunks the ball for his only points Friday during the Owls’ victory over Drew Central in Hot Springs.
The McGehee senior point guard scored 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting and was 9 of 12 at the free-throw line. He also had nine rebounds and three steals. He drew a charge with 13 seconds left, then made the game-winning layup with nine seconds remaining to break a 49-49 tie.
This was McGehee’s first boys basketball state championship. … McGehee defeated Drew Central four out of five times this season. The Pirates won the first meeting Jan. 26, but the Owls won the second regular-season meeting, then won in the 6-3A Conference and 3A Region 4 tournaments. … Attendance was 4,352. … McGehee outrebounded Drew Central 34-22 and had 20 offensive rebounds. … Owls junior forward DeWayne Railey finished with a team-high 10 rebounds.
Sports on 03/10/2018
Print Headline: What a way to go: Pace ends career with McGehee’s first title