By KEVIN THOMPSON
DEERFIELD — Overtimes have not been kind to Deerfield this season, so Mike Mata wasn't about to let it happen again.
The senior put back an offensive board with a short jumper just as time expired to lift the Spartans over a short-handed Greeley County team, 37-35 Friday night.
Alex Mata's 3-point attempt from straight on with five seconds remaining ricocheted straight into the waiting hands of brother Mike for that dramatic ending, and gave Deerfield a much-needed win.
Greeley County called a time out with 29 seconds remaining, and the Jackrabbits got a 3-point attempt and an offensive rebound for a jump shot, but both shots missed.
Deerfield got the ball out of bounds, called time out with 8.8 seconds left, and ran the exact play coach Bob Schmitz drew up.
And, he said, if you believe that, you also still believe in the Easter bunny.
"They executed it to perfection," he said wryly.
The original play was supposed to be a full-court play that went straight to the basket to try to draw a foul or make the bucket. It didn't go according to plan, but it all worked out, Schmitz said.
"Michael's a good rebounder. He was in the right spot to get that shot back off," he said. And it helped to be left-handed from that left side for a clear shot.
Despite finishing with a team-high 14 points, Mike Mata had been struggling all night. Before his buzzer-beater, he had hit his last field goal with 3:01 left — in the third period.
It was indicative of a hard-fought effort in a low-scoring game.
Greeley County held a 15-12 first-quarter lead, as Troy Wineinger and AJ Covert combined for 13 points. Playing with just a six-man roster, they still managed to stay tied at 22 at halftime, thanks to Deerfield converting just 8-of-28 shots.
Both teams struggled in the third, with the Spartans out-duking the Jackrabbits 8-5.
Tyrel Ibarra got the Rabbits a lead to start the fourth quarter, before Mark Skipper got it back with a put-back at 5:45.
Covert got the lead back at the 3:00 mark before Skipper tied it again on a free throw.
Ibarra scored again with 1:01 to play to tie the game, the last score for his team before Mata's buzzer shot.
"Tonight wasn't our shooting night. We're not usually this low-scoring of a team (they average 54 points a game)," Schmitz said. "I was hoping we could attack a bit more, draw a few more fouls on them."
Deerfield was just 15-of-52 from the floor, and things weren't much better from the foul line.
While getting Greeley County into foul trouble would have winded them, the uncharacteristic way the Spartans shot free throws might not have made much difference. They were just 4-of-15 from the line.
The Rabbits, however, were just 7-of-12 to offset that edge.
"It's not that we're a great free throw-shooting team," Schmitz said. "It comes with the game; sometimes you've got it in you, sometimes you've got to fight through it. It gave the crowd for homecoming night an amazing finish."
Greeley County (9-8) suffered its fifth straight loss, but three have come after a few players quit, hence the six-man team Friday. Some of those had never started on varsity until now.
"They got thrown into the fire, but I couldn't be more proud of them. Some of those guys made huge plays that they wouldn't even make in JV," the senior Wineinger said.
This was the first game back from a severe injury three weeks ago for Wineinger, and he had to play most of the game. With the help of his cross country endurance and a good ankle brace, he had to make the most of his time.
"I missed some shots, but I have to keep my head up and know that nobody else can really come off the bench and score for us," he said.
But Ibarra's two fourth-quarter baskets served as a prime example of a guy stepping up, he added, and the way his teammates hustled after loose balls and rebounds is a credit to the team effort that is trademark Greeley County.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Wineinger said. "We're going to have to keep playing as a team."
Deerfield has played as a team all season, Schmitz said. A win like this shows they can play through tough nights, and that's something Deerfield (6-9) needs as the regular season comes to a close.
"This team just keeps fighting to the end. Last year they worked hard but we just weren't in the games at the end. Now we're getting a lot smarter with it," he said.
Greeley County 15 8 5 8 -- 35
Deerfield 12 10 8 7 -- 37
Greeley County (9-8) — Covert 4 4-6 15, T.Ibarra 2 1-2 5, Wineinger 3 1-2 8, D.Ibarra 1 1-2 3, Harney 2 0-0- 4. Totals 12-47 7-12 35.
Deerfield (6-9) — Alex Mata 4 0-0 9, Skipper 2 3-9 7, M. Mata 6 1-4 14, Anth. Mata 1 0-0 3, Rubio 1 0-0 2, Bemis 1 0-2 2. Totals 15-52 4-15 37.
3-pt. goals — Greeley County 4-16 (Covert 3, Wineinger 1), Deerfield 3-18 (Alex Mata, M. Mata, Anth. Mata). Rebounds — Greeley County 28 (Harney 6, Wineinger 5, Covert 5), Deerfield 30 (M. Mata 8, Alex Mata 6). Turnovers — Greeley County 11, Deerfield 8. Technical fouls — none. Fouled out — none. Total fouls — Greeley County 13, Deerfield 15.