LYNN HAVEN — Everyone in the gym knew that Mosley’s Nat Dixon would take the last shot Tuesday night.
That included Niceville, however, in their District 2-6A boys basketball play-in game.
So Dixon, who had 35 points, faced a double team, found open teammate Brandon Salazar slashing to the basket, and the junior’s 8-foot bank shot from a difficult angle beat the buzzer and produced a 68-66 victory for the Dolphins.
The improbable finish guaranteed that Mosley will host the semifinals on Friday. Choctawhatchee will meet Crestview at 4:30 p.m. and Mosley will host top-seeded Fort Walton Beach at 6 p.m. The games were moved up an hour to accommodate a Choctawhatchee athlete who will receive an award Friday evening from the All-Sports Association in Okaloosa County.
Had Niceville eliminated Mosley, the entire tournament would have been shifted to Fort Walton Beach’s court for the semifinals and finals.
Mosley, 9-17, defeated Niceville for the third time this season, two of the games by the narrowest of margins. The Eagles, 7-17, looked like they had forced overtime on Tuesday when freshman Mitch Morken became an unlikely hero.
Morken didn’t even enter the game until the third quarter, but when coach Jerome Strutchen set up a play off a Niceville timeout, his 3-pointer from the right wing was perfect. It produced a 66-66 deadlock and gave Mosley 13 seconds to counter.
“We wanted (Dixon) to take it to the hole, but we knew he would draw some people,” Mosley coach Chris Martello said. “We just trusted him to get it in the right guy’s hands.”
That turned out to be Salazar, who hadn’t scored from the field during the first 31 minutes of the game and missed one of two free throws with 22 seconds remaining. Had he made them both it would have become a two-possession game, but as it was it enabled Morken’s effort to quicken pulses even more.
The drama in the final minute expanded the cast of leading characters. Mosley led 63-60, but when Cody Harris missed the front end of the bonus with 1:02 remaining Niceville’s Andrew Mitchell was fouled on the rebound.
Mitchell made one of two free throws, and the Eagles knotted the score 63-63 when Brandon Mosley slapped the ball out of Dixon’s hands and scored underneath with 54 seconds showing.
Mosley called time with 37 seconds to go and Harris got free on the inbounds pass from Dixon. The junior guard converted a pressure drive to the basket and Salazar notched a free throw shortly afterward. That’s when logic really became strained.
Without Dixon, who had scored 38 and 28 points in prior wins versus Niceville, the Dolphins might have been routed in their own gym. The Eagles got 11 first-quarter points off the bench from 6-footl-4 senior Nicholas Haynes and opened an early 18-7 bulge.
Dixon had six of Mosley’s points at that stage, but merely was getting warmed up. He nailed seven consecutive 3-pointers in the first half and had 23 points by midway through the second quarter. He wound up 12-19 from the field, seven of nine behind the arc.
The Dolphins never could forge more than a five-point lead, however, as Mitchell and Haynes continued to power inside for easy baskets. Both finished with 15 points despite Haynes sitting out the entire third quarter with three fouls.
Dixon’s lone consistent support was supplied by 6-4 senior teammate Josh Turner, who had 16 points for the Dolphins. But it was Harris and Salazar who extended Mosley’s season for at least three more days.
Korey Amaker had 13 points, Morken added nine and Mosley eight for the Eagles.
Amaker 6 0-0 13, Vasquez 0 0-0 0, Morken 3 1-2 9, Mosley 4 0-0 8, Douglas 1 0-0 3, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Jones 1 0-0 3, Krist 0 0-0 0, Mitchell 7 1-2 15, Haynes 7 0-0 15. Totals: 29 2-4 66.
Ward 1 4-4 6, Dixon 12 4-5 35, Harrison 0 0-0 0, Stadmire 0 0-0 0, Albert 0 0-0 0, Harris 2 0-1 5, Doolan 0 0-0 0, Salazar 1 3-4 5, Turner 7 2-2 16, Alexander 0 1-2 1. Totals: 23 14-18 68.
Niceville 20 13 16 17 — 66
Mosley 19 18 16 15 — 68
3-point goals: Niceville 6 (Morken 2, Haynes, Jones, Amaker, Douglas), Mosley 8 (Dixon 7, Harris). Total fouls: Niceville 21, Mosley 12. Fouled out: Ward.