LEOPOLD, Mo. -- Shawn Kinder's confidence never wavered when his freshman point guard stepped to the line with the game in his hands.
Leopold's boys basketball coach believed Kyle Stroder would deliver in a tie game with 10.1 seconds left Tuesday.
"He's played a lot of basketball and we have a lot of confidence in him," Kinder said of Stroder. "We've got him running the point. I figured he's done a great job running the point for us, handled a lot of pressure."
Despite the confidence, Stroder clanked the rim on his first attempt. Leopold junior John Bohnsack refused to get down on his teammate.
"I trust him," Bohnsack said. "I know he can make them. I'll put him up there any time. I knew he had the second one."
Stroder swished his second attempt to give the Wildcats a one-point lead.
"I just knew I had to make at least one," Stroder said. "I wish I'd made both because it would have made me feel a lot better about playing defense. I just kept telling myself over and over that I was going to make the second one. I was just hoping it would go in."
But Meadow Heights still had time.
Panthers junior Calen Buerck raced down the floor and drove to the middle of the lane. He drew lots of contact as he went up for a shot at the free-throw line with about 6 seconds left. Buerck's shot missed the rim and the scrum for the rebound ended when it went out of bounds off a Panthers player with one-tenth of a second left. The Wildcats threw the ensuing inbounds pass to the far end of the gym to secure the 63-62 victory.
Meadow Heights coach Tom Brown said he wanted Buerck to take the last shot.
"I had a timeout left ... but I told the kids what to do," Brown said. "I told Calen to take it down. Sometimes if you use that timeout, that gives them time to set up a defense. I knew he could get down and get by them and go to the hole."
The Wildcats weren't surprised to see Buerck, a guard who jabs and darts to create space to drive, penetrate the lane.
"I was like, 'Don't let them penetrate,'" Bohnsack said. "I knew for sure they'd come down and penetrate on us and get a bucket. That's what they did the whole game. We just played terrible defense. They penetrated our gaps good today."
It would have been hard to predict an exciting finish after Leopold jumped out to an early lead, which ballooned to 19 points with 5 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter. The Wildcats shot 61 percent in the opening half and enjoyed an 11-point lead at the break. Meadow Heights started the third quarter ice cold from the field, missing nine of its first 10 shots in the quarter.
But all of a sudden, the Panthers woke up. They put together a 10-2 run to close the third quarter and pull to 49-41 entering the final quarter.
"When them boys were freshmen, they had a 19-point lead on Leopold at their place and Leopold came back and beat us by one," Brown said of his team. "I told them, 'You know it's possible. We can do it. We just have to keep fighting.'"
The Panthers started to smell blood in the water and slapped on its harassing press. The Wildcats struggled to respond as it turned over the ball four times in the first 1:16 of the fourth.
"They caused us to rush a few shots and we played right into their hands," Kinder said.
Meadow Heights shot 28 percent (13 of 46) from the field through the first three quarters. But sparked by their defensive tenacity, the Panthers' offense heated up. They started the final quarter on a 7-0 run to pull within one point at 49-48 with 6:46 left.
"Their press is amazing," Bohnsack said. "It's hard to get past. ... I should have helped more. It was just very good today."
Every time the Panthers seemed poised to grab the lead, the Wildcats fended off the attack. But Meadow Heights finally pulled even for the first time since the beginning of the game when Buerck hit a pair of free throws with 18.7 seconds left.
Buerck's two free throws set the stage for Stroder's game-winning free throw.
"The fourth quarter, it was an all-out battle," Bohnsack said.
Meadow Heights shot 50 percent (8 of 16) from the field in the fourth quarter and forced 10 Leopold turnovers.
"I think our defense picked it up in the second half and I thought we really played a lot better with a lot of intensity," Brown said. "If we would have done that the whole game, it might have made a difference."
It was fitting Leopold won the game at the free-throw line since that's where it scored its points in the final quarter. The Wildcats hit 8 of their 13 attempts (62 percent), while the Panthers went 3 of 9 (33 percent) from the stripe in the final quarter.
MEADOW HEIGHTS (62) -- Adam Walker 15, Calen Buerck 24, Nick Webb 10, Trever Hotop 6, Josh Keller 2, Dustin Hubler 2, Trent Kiefer 3. FG 21, 14-25, F 20. (3-pointers: Buerck 1, Webb 2, Walker 3. Fouled out: Hubler, Hotop)
LEOPOLD (63) -- Lance Seiler 8, John Bohnsack 17, David Fluchel 16, Anthony Seabaugh 8, Ryan Davis 4, Kyle Stroder 8, Joe Elfrink 2. FG 24, FT 10-20, F 21. (3-pointers: Seiler 1, Bohnsack 4. Fouled out: Seabaugh)