TRAVERSE CITY — Even down 15 early in the third quarter, the Frankfort Panthers never lost hope.
Frankfort forced overtime with 18 seconds left in regulation, then went on to beat Baldwin 69-65 in a stirring opener of a Class D regional basketball doubleheader at Traverse City Central on Monday night.
The Panthers (19-5) will face unbeaten Bellaire (23-0) in Wednesday’s championship game. The Eagles held off upset-minded Suttons Bay 43-37 in the nightcap.
Frankfort will be seeking its first regional title since 1975.
That opportunity almost ended Monday. Frankfort, which never led in regulation, trailed 42-27 just over a minute into the third quarter.
“We’ve been down like that before so we knew we weren’t out of it,” sophomore center David Loney said. “We kept fighting to the end. That’s what our team does. That’s what we’ve been taught from day one. This is an amazing feeling, nothing like it in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Loney, who battled foul trouble most of the night, scored the tying basket that forced overtime. He finished with 25 points. Senior Owen Stratton sparked the second-half comeback, scoring 20 of his game-high 28 in the third and fourth quarters.
“Heck of a team win,” Stratton said. “We were down, but we knew we could come back. We kept our heads in it and kept playing hard.”
Stratton, the only senior in the starting lineup, nailed five 3-pointers.
“I was just trying to do whatever I could to help our team come back and get the win,” he said.
Frankfort battled back from that double-digit deficit to tie the game at 55-all on a Loney basket with 1:56 left. But Baldwin star Brandon Childress responded with two scores to put his team up four, 59-55.
Loney matched those two baskets in the final minute to send it to the extra session.