Before there could be any thought about winning a share of the District 8-2A title, The Dunham School had to display a championship mettle to have the opportunity.
With the just over six minutes remaining, the Tigers were up to the task.
Freshman Jordan Wright gave Dunham the lead for good with a pair of free throws, sparking a 12-2 spurt that resulted in the separation the Tigers needed in a 60-56 victory Friday over Christian Life.
“We knew if we were going to play for a district championship we had to figure it out at some point,” Dunham coach Jonathan Pixley said. “It started with about six minutes left.”
Dunham (28-5) finished the regular season in a tie for the district championship with Episcopal with an identical 7-1 records.
The two teams meet 6 p.m. Saturday at Parkview Baptist to determine the league’s top seed going into next week’s Class 2A state playoffs.
“Credit to them and their team,” CLA coach Stephen Dale said. “They closed and finished, and we struggled offensively the second half. Part of that is due to them, part of it was our shot selection where we settled.”
Defense was the catalyst in Dunham’s closing kick with guard Ty Spurlock knocking down a 5-foot bank shot following a steal.
Center Mike Williams poked away a pass which Wright eventually gathered and scored for a three-point play and 49-43 lead with 5:32 remaining.
Wright scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the second half with nine coming in the decisive final quarter.
“Jordan was admittedly sleep-walking the first half,” Pixley said. “He wanted the ball down the stretch which is a heck of a sign for a freshman in that environment.”
Spurlock, who finished with 14 points, made four straight free throws that capped Dunham’s biggest run of the game that made it 54-45 with 2:34 left.
During that stretch CLA (23-7, 4-4) missed nine straight field goal attempts and suffered five of its 15 turnovers.
Two free throws from leading scorer FX Roges (12 points) stopped Dunham’s run but the Crusaders only had a pair of field goals — two 3-pointers from Sam Williams (11 points) and Johnathan Thomas — in the last 2½ minutes of play.
The two teams engaged in a back-and-forth encounter for the first half with six ties and five lead changes.
Marquis Webb’s deep 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left gave CLA a 29-26 halftime lead and the Crusaders opened a 33-26 lead — their biggest of the game — when Roges got loose inside for a pair of baskets.
Dunham erased that deficit with an 10-4 run over the final three minutes of the third quarter with Wright having a hand in all 10 points with seven points and an assist to Ben Bernhard for a 3-pointer for a 40-39 edge.
“In the fourth quarter we said we had to guard, get up on shooters and make sure we box out,” said Pixley, whose team also shot 53 percent from the field.
“They did all the things they weren’t doing the first three quarters.”