INCLINE VILLAGE - Who was going to be a hero? That was the question after 32-plus minutes of intense, seesaw action between the Whittell and Incline boys basketball teams Tuesday night.
As it turned out, many players were deserving of that designation.
But after an epic battle that featured six ties and 10 lead changes, including two in the final 16 seconds of regulation, it was Incline's standouts who prevailed with a thrilling, 51-50 win in overtime.
"The kids just kept making shots," said Incline coach Tim Kelly. "It's a fun night when kids are making plays like that."
For a moment, Palmer Chaplin was the celebrated star, as the Whittell freshman sunk a deep 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in regulation to give the Warriors a 43-42 lead.
Thirteen seconds later, however, Incline sophomore Jack Clouthier took over the hero role, as he drained his own clutch 3-pointer to give his Highlanders a 45-43 lead with just three seconds on the clock.
Yet, the Mount Rose League clash was still far from decided.
Bryce Bronken was fouled on the inbound pass, and the Whittell sophomore calmly hit both pressure free throws - with a raucous Incline student section trying its best to distract him - to knot the score at 45.
After an Incline turnover on the ensuing inbound, Whittell's senior sharp shooter, Austin Neil, came up short on a well-defended 3-point attempt, sending the game into overtime.
Neil hit his next 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 48-46 lead early in the overtime period. But Incline sophomore Jack Bessette answered with a runner in the lane, and senior captain Rob Rubsamen followed with a steal and two free throws to give the Highlanders a 50-48 lead.
Bronken scored in the paint to tie the game for the final time at 50-all. Rubsamen then made the front end of a one-and-one and missed the second with 1:04 remaining, and Incline held on for the win after a final shot attempt by Neil sailed long.
"We had a lot of mistakes early," said Whittell coach Phil Bryant. "Everyone thinks it comes down to the last shot, but missing our free throws and letting them have open 3s early hurt us. I'm disappointed from the aspect that we didn't execute in the first five minutes. But I'm proud of the kids. They played hard and had a good time."
Kelly said he also was proud of his players, particularly Clouthier for his go-ahead 3-pointer and Rubsamen for coming up with two key steals that he converted into points - including a pick-pocket swipe of Neil and layup with 50 seconds left in regulation that put Incline on top.
"We hit some humongous shots. Rob Rubsamen came up huge with a couple of big steals and free throws. I'm proud of all the guys," Kelly said. "They're a bunch of young bucks playing hard and having fun."
The game started off as a 3-point parade as Incline jumped out to a 9-3 lead behind the outside touch of Christian Biscotti, Drew Bessette and Clouthier. After Incline stretched its lead to 13-7 early in the second quarter, Bronken scored six straight points to tie the score for the first time at 13.
The lakeside rivals traded leads throughout the second and third quarters, with Incline surging ahead by as many as seven points by halftime before the Warriors stormed back with a 10-2 run early in the third.
Whittell again fell behind by eight points midway through the fourth, and again the Warriors battled back with an 8-0 run, all by Neil, to pull even at 40-40. Then came Rubsamen's crucial steal with less than a minute, followed by Chaplin and Clouthier's big 3-pointers.
"They kept fighting. They're a good team," Clouthier said. "They played us hard and we played them hard. It was an all-around good game."
Clouthier led all scorers with 17 points, including four 3-pointers, while Jack Bessette scored nine points, Biscotti had eight and Rubsamen seven. Bronken led the Warriors with 16 points, Neil had 14 and Chaplin had 10. Both Chaplin and Neil hit three 3-pointers apiece.
Incline improved to 12-12 overall and 4-5 in Mount Rose League play while Whittell fell to now 12-10 overall and 2-7 in league. Both teams are heading to the Northern Division III regional tournament, which is scheduled for Feb. 15-16 at Elko High School. Seedings have yet to be determined.
Tuesday's game marked the Highlanders' senior farewell as they sent off Rubsamen and Drew Bessette in style.
UP NEXT: Incline ends the regular season at Sparks on Saturday.