Fries was certainly glad he had it Saturday night after coaching Furtah Prep to the Georgia Independent School Association Class AA state championship and being doused with water during the post-game celebration.
Furtah Prep beat First Presbyterian Christian 60-57 after Milos Sikimic and Paul Bokeloh made a trio of late free throws to get a narrow lead with 22 seconds remaining. From there, the Falcons played tight defense and contested a 3-pointer in the final seconds to secure the championship.
“That was a heck of a team we played,” Fries said. “I mean, that is a very athletic team. That is the thing when you coach high school kids. They get a little crazy sometimes. Every time we got a little crazy, we found a way to fight back.”
Furtah, which rarely trailed for much of the season, played from behind most of Saturday’s game. First Presbyterian led 10-7 after the first quarter and 29-26 at the half. The Highlanders maintained the lead through the third quarter and Furtah trailed 45-43 entering the final period of play.
That deficit didn’t last long.
With the Highlanders in foul trouble early in the fourth, the Falcons seized the lead and were up by one less than a minute into the period.
Twice Furtah extended its lead to five points, only to see First Presbyterian rally.
The Falcons were up 55-49 with 2:19 to play, and starters Nils Dejworek and Amir Savon both had picked up their fourth fouls of the game. Furtah, however, was in a double-bonus situation, shooting two shots every time they went to the free-throw line.
A quick basket by First Presbyterian’s Ahman Muhammad cut the lead to three, and after a steal and layup by Miguel Pineda, the Highlanders were down by one. Pineda was on the free-throw line for a shot after being fouled on the layup, and as the Furtah fans screamed from behind the bench, Pineda tied the game at 55-all with 1:23 on the clock.
The Falcons pushed the ball up the court and, seconds later, led 57-55 after a shot by Dejworek. He was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw that could have put the Falcons up by three.
The Highlanders tied it again with 52 seconds left before Furtah was able to take the lead for good with 22 seconds on the clock. After a missed shot, the Falcons added two more free throws for the final score.
First Presbyterian called a timeout with 19 seconds left and tried to make the most of its final possession. Fries said he told his players to contest each shot and not let Pineda get the ball for the final shot.
“I told them the other team was going to screen for (Pineda), their best player, and to switch on all the screen,” Fries said. “I told them, if he did get the ball, to contest him. Then, I said, once we get the rebound, to be strong and hold it because they were going to foul.”
Fries, who also coached Furtah to a state championship in 2007, said it feels just as good the second time. All season long, he encouraged his players to “win the last game.”
“Right now, I’m a little in shock,” Fries said after helping the players mop water off the floor at Mercer University. “I have a great group. It’s a lot different than the first (state championship) team, and I’m just so happy for them and our fans here. I’m just very proud of what they did.”
Fries said the players came together as a team in October, but after more than five months, they are more like a family now.
“We are leaving (Saturday) night as brothers,” Fries said. “We come from all over the world, and we really bought into that and it showed (Saturday).”
Dejworek led Furtah with 18 points, including three 3-pointers. Sikimic finished with 17 points, and Sam Wilson scored 10. The only other Furtah players to score were Savon with eight points and Bokeloh with two in the fourth quarter.
Furtah went 8-for-12 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.