BOULDER — Caleb Wehmuller stepped up to the free throw line Saturday with .7 seconds remaining in the game and with and a chance to push the Boulder Panthers on through to the Sweet 16 of the Class 5A state tournament.
ThunderRidge guard Garrett Arnold tried to put additional pressure on him stepping up to the line in the crucial moment.
“(Arnold) came up to me and was saying that there was a lot of pressure on these shots,” Wehmuller said. “I told him this is what I worked all season long on… this is what I do best.”
Wehmuller blocked out the added pressure and sunk both free throws to help Boulder win 51-49 in the second round, a dramatic finish that postseason should be all about.
The free throws from Wehmuller came after Boulder had to overcome a 10-point deficit in the third quarter, and after it lost a 3-point lead in the final 30 seconds of the game.
Boulder (20-4) and ThunderRidge (14-11) traded the lead and never went on a run through the first half as the game remained tied at 28-28 going into the break. It was ThunderRidge who went on the first run of the night in the third quarter, scoring 12 of the first 14 points of the second half to lead 40-30.
“I believe this is a sport where it is a game of runs,” Boulder coach Riley Grabau said. “It’s about how you weather that storm.”
Grabau saw his team answer with six straight points from Wehmeller — a traditional 3-point play followed by a trey at the buzzer to end the quarter. Jimmy Starry drained a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that tied the game and Peter Boyle gave Boulder the lead on an inbounds play underneath their hoop to finish a 12-0 run to get the lead back.
“We just stuck to the game plan,” Wehmuller said. “We had a lot of scouting and played these guys already. We stuck to the game plan and that took us to the end.”
Along with big shots in the run, Boulder held ThunderRidge off the scoreboard with a trapping defense that forced bad passes and led to multiple turnovers and empty possessions to aid the comeback.
Arnold made a big 3-pointer for ThunderRidge with 30 seconds to go that tied the game at 49-49 and gave Boulder the final possession to win it. The Panthers drew up a play for Starry to get a 3-point shot in the corner. His shot was long, but Wehmuller ran to the block and was able to rebound the miss and pick up a foul in the final second.
“I told myself if Jimmy doesn’t hit it, I’ll hit it,” Wehmuller said. “I grabbed the ball and luckily got fouled. Free throws are what I do best.”
Wehmuller led the Panthers with 14 points and Starry finished with 12 in the win. The No. 8 seeded Panthers will host the No. 9 seed Columbine Rebels in the Sweet 16 on Wednesday.