BENZONIA -- For 32 minutes, Leland and Buckley played to a standstill in the Class D regional basketball final here Wednesday night.
It took a free throw by Drew Corwin with no time left on the clock to give Buckley a dramatic 67-66 win.
It was Buckley's second regional title in school history.
"I shot 100 free throws before the game," Corwin said. "There's no way I was missing that free throw. No way."
Corwin was fouled trying to grab a rebound as the clock expired. It was a call that was immediately challenged by Leland coach Jon Kiessel.
"The way every single game has been called all season, the way every game has been called here, that's a call that should not decide a basketball game," he said. "With no ticks on the clock you have two kids up in the air fighting for the ball and there's a foul called -- and it's the game winner. It's unfortunate, but it's life. It hurts."
The Comets had tied the game at 66 on a Calvin Gibson basket with six seconds remaining. Buckley called time with 4.3 seconds to go. The Bears got the ball to Zach Hartzell. His shot bounced off the rim and the foul was called just as the clock hit :00.
After a brief meeting, the officials ruled that Corwin was fouled before the horn sounded. Since Buckley was in a double-bonus situation. Corwin had two free throws coming. He needed just one.
"I wanted to get it done," he said.
Buckley players and fans swarmed the court after he drained the game-winning shot.
"It's surreal," Buckley coach Rene LaFraniere III said. "Those are the things you dream about as a kid -- no time on the clock and you're shooting a free throw to decide the game. Now, here I am with a 17-year-old kid on my team in this situation.
"It's ironic because yesterday I was telling the kids we shoot 100 free throws a day and you'll get in a game where it will only come down to one. And there we were."
Corwin was the only player on the court -- and all eyes were on him -- as he stepped to the line. His teammates had no doubt he would deliver.
"He's been working hard all year on his free throws," sophomore guard Joel Ledford said. "With two shots I knew he was going to step up and make one of them. "
Buckley's only other regional championship came in 1998.
"It's what we wanted," Corwin said. "It was our goal. We're not done yet."
Buckley (16-8) will play two-time defending state champion Muskegon West Michigan Christian in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal Tuesday at Traverse City Central.
"I don't care who we're playing," LaFreniere said. "I don't care if we're playing the L.A. Lakers. I'm just happy to be there."
As for the call at the end of the game?
"Whether that was a foul or not is not my call," LaFreniere said. "The officials have the toughest job in the whole building. He was in better position. Do you call it? Do you not call it? They called it. I can't fault our kids for that. I feel badly that Jon and his kids have to go out on a note like that. But they have nothing to be ashamed of.
"We handled them at our place and they absolutely kicked our tails up at their place. I knew it was going to be a dogfight here tonight. It proved to be what we thought it was going to be."
Buckley came out on fire in the first half, quickly taking a 7-0 lead. The Bears, hitting seven 3-pointers, maintained a cushion throughout the half and took a 42-31 lead into the break.
"I was wondering if we were going to miss," LaFreniere said.
But the game changed in the third quarter as Leland turned hot, hitting five 3-pointers. The Comets outscored Buckley 23-8 to take a 54-50 lead -- and setting the stage for an exciting fourth quarter.
"We said at half, 'There's no way we're going to give our jerseys up,'" Kiessel said.
Not only did the Comets start draining shots -- notably Nate Sneed and Gibson -- but Ben Gulow put the clamps on Buckley star Josh Ledford, holding him to five second half points. Ledford had 11 at the half.
"Ben was absolutely phenomenal," Kiessel said. "It (defensive play) changed the game."
Josh Ledford hit two free throws with 2:28 left to put the Bears on top, 60-59. His brother Joel nailed a 3-pointer with 1:13 to go to push the margin to four.
But Leland was not done. Gibson drilled a 3-pointer and it was back to one.
With 33 seconds left, Corwin was fouled and injured on the play. He left the game, Hartzell entered and he sank two free throws to make a 65-62.
Galen Whittaker responded with a basket 12 seconds later, cutting it to 65-64.
Josh Ledford then hit one of two free throws with 14.7 seconds on the clock, but Gibson had the equalizer with six seconds to go.
"The hardest part is that the guys fought so hard all night," Kiessel said. "They fought and they fought and they fought all night. They came back, they got down again and they came back again. We were pretty confident had that gone to overtime that we would have taken care of it.
"I told them I was proud of them, that they couldn't have fought any harder, and that I'm sorry we didn't have a different outcome. We weren't ready to be done. None of us were ready.
"But what a great regional final game. What a great battle."
Joel Ledford and Corwin led Buckley with 20 points. Josh Ledford added 16.
Whittaker and Gibson finished with 17 for Leland (15-9). Sneed chipped in 16 and Sam Scott 12.
Joel Ledord hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. He also hit two in the first half, including a half-court shot to end the first quarter.
"Leland's coach told me after the game that their game plan was to let me shoot," Ledford said. "I like shooting in this gym."
Ironically, Ledford hit a half-court 3-pointer in a JV game at Benzie during the season.
So nothing new, right?
"It's still pretty sweet," he said.