SHARONVILLE — Jacob Parnell sluggishly walked out of the locker room dejected, though his head was held high. The Cincinnati Christian School senior just cashed in the best performance of his prep career.
But all of it was overshadowed by a single shot on Wednesday night.
Hansen Thomas took an inbounds pass from teammate Josh Marshall with 3.5 seconds left and sunk a long-range 3-pointer to send fourth-seeded Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy past No. 2 Cincinnati Christian 52-49 in a Division IV sectional final at Princeton.
“Tonight was a tough game, for sure,” said Parnell, who scored a team-high 21 points. “That’s a pretty solid team over there. We’ve been preparing for this all season. We got here, and it didn’t turn out our way.
“I would have rather lost on a buzzer-beater than lose by 50,” Parnell added. “We’ve put in the work as a team. We all worked really hard this season to get here. This was an amazing season.”
Indeed it was.
Cincinnati Christian finished 21-3 overall — 12-0 in the Miami Valley Conference — and had the fewest losses in program history.
“Our kids battled,” Cougars coach Brian Gunter said. “To come back and get the game to where we wanted it to be — they just kept battling.”
CCPA held its largest lead at 49-40 with 5:20 left to play. The Cougars held the Lions without a point the next 5:17 and scored nine straight to tie it up at 49-49.
After a Cincinnati Christian turnover with 2o seconds left, CCPA took possession with a chance to win it. The Lions called a timeout to dial up the inbounds play that allowed Thomas to get enough separation from CCS junior Alex Mullins to put the game-winner.
“I knew it was going in,” Thomas said. “I had to dig deep and win it for my boys.”
Thomas finished with six points. Marshall, the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference’s leading scorer, had a game-high 28 points.
“We came out with a lot of energy and executed on offense,” Marshall said. “We made the shots when we needed to.”
Parnell led the game off with a bucket to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead within the first minute. He hit a 3-pointer to put CCS back on top 6-5 with 5:10 left in the opening quarter.
The Cougars never saw the lead again until another Parnell basket made it 40-39 with 1:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The Lions went on a 10-0 run that was countered by Cincinnati Christian’s 9-0 spurt that knotted things up at 49-49 with under a minute remaining.
Moments later, Thomas hit the dagger.
“We dialed that play up,” CCPA coach Reginald Revels said. “Our best player is Josh Marshall — he was a decoy. He threw the ball in bounds. There was a double screen on the left side. Hansen needed to catch it quick and shoot it, and that’s what he did.”
CCPA (16-6) moves on to the district finals for the first time in school history.
Cincinnati Christian senior Caleb Brown had 17 points, seven rebounds and five steals. Mullins finished with six points and 10 rebounds.
“We had an amazing season. We bonded together as a team,” Brown said. “When things end like this, all you want to do is think about the positives. I just hope that whatever is next for the group coming up, it goes well for them.”
Cincinnati Christian graduates seniors Alex Buschmann, Corey Rogers, Brandon Rogers, Josh Turner, Parnell and Brown.
“Every one of those kids wanted this one bad,” Gunter said. “What a heck of a year for these kids. The senior leadership on this team — they went above and beyond expectations. It was just tremendous.”