DOVER — As Freedom coach Cedric Smith watched Strawberry Crest harass his Patriots by trapping them and forcing turnovers in the backcourt, he saw some potential good, too — an opening underneath.
Freedom junior Miguel Rojas found that soft spot in the closing seconds Tuesday night to make the biggest bucket in Patriots history.
Rojas’ layup with eight seconds left gave Freedom a 42-40 road win over Strawberry Crest in the Class 7A region semifinals, extending the deepest playoff run Freedom has ever had to within four quarters of a trip to state.
“It’s just unbelievable,” senior Daniel Thompson said.
Freedom (18-6) struggled in the first half, going scoreless for more than five minutes, but its defense never let the Chargers (22-7) get ahead by more than seven points.
Strawberry Crest forced seven of Freedom’s 18 turnovers in the fourth quarter. A steal and layup by Isiah Channer gave the Chargers a 34-29 lead with five and a half minutes left.
“We knew buckets were going to come,” said Rojas, who finished with a team-high 14 points and eight rebounds. “We just had to lock down on the defensive end.”
Thompson answered with his only four points of the game to cut the deficit to one and set up a fantastic finish. The final four minutes featured four lead changes and two ties.
Rojas made a layup with 34 seconds left to go ahead 40-38, but Chargers guard Malik Channer responded with two free throws to tie the game again.
That’s when Smith drew up the winning play on the bench.
“I wouldn’t say it was some John Wooden play or anything,” Smith said, “but we do it every day in practice.”
As the seconds ticked away, Rojas set a high screen and dove to the opposite block. Thompson saw Rojas flash out of the corner of his eye at the last moment and threw him the ball at the basket.
“The weak side was open, just like Coach drew it up,” Thompson said. “It was there.”
And Rojas made it, completing the biggest win in school history.
Sheldon Odunna added 13 points and six rebounds for the Patriots. Malik Channer led Strawberry Crest with 15 points, and Isiah Channer paced the Chargers’ defense with four steals.