In one of the most exciting youth basketball games witnessed locally, the Shelby School Iguanas slipped past San Carlos 38-35 in double overtime to win the championship of the Town of Payson Boys' Invitational Basketball Tournament.
Played Saturday in Wilson dome, the gold-medal finale wasn't expected to be the barn-burner it turned into since Shelby had steamrolled San Carlos 27-9 in round-robin tournament play earlier in the day.
In the championship, Shelby -- a tiny private school located in Tonto Village -- ran out to a 13-5 half-time lead by slowing down the San Carlos fast-break with its own disciplined half-court offense.
The slow-down tactics had worked to perfection in Shelby's earlier win over SC.
"We have always done well against reservation teams by taking away the fast-break," Shelby coach Steve Rensch said.
Even though one of their best players had fouled out, San Carlos came roaring back in the second half to take a two-point lead with four seconds remaining in the game.
In possession of the ball at their own end of the floor, Rensch called for a last-gasp floor-length scoring effort that would have been tough for a college team to execute.
"Every coach has a desperation play for that eventuality, but they never work," he said.
This time, however, the ploy unfolded to perfection when Harper Kamp caught a pass inbounds and scored on a lay-up at the buzzer to push the game into overtime.
Buoyed by Kamp's last-second heroics, Shelby led through most of the first overtime before San Carlos sent the game into a second extra period, knocking down two clutch-free throws with just two seconds remaining.
In the second OT, Shelby jumped out to a three-point lead and maintained the cushion late into the period.
Gritty San Carlos, however, was not ready to roll over and cough up the game. With a few ticks remaining on the clock, an SC player launched a desperation shot from half court that was on target.
"It was a prayer which was right on line," Rensch said.
But much to the chagrin of the SC team and fans, the attempt bounced off the back of the rim and fell harmlessly to the floor as the Shelby players began their jubilant celebration.
"I've never been more proud of any team I've coached than I was of this team," the coach said. "I'm proud because they came from way back to win the tourney in dramatic fashion."
The resiliency Rensch was referring to occurred in the tournament's early going after the Payson Falcons upset Shelby 25-23.
Falcon players celebrated the victory as if they had just learned school was let out early for the summer recess.
The stunning defeat resulted in Shelby "hitting bottom emotionally," Rensch said.
The Iguanas, however, rebounded from the disappointment to whip the Falcons 48-31 in the tournament semifinals.
Following the day-long invitational, the coach praised the team members for their contribution, saying Kamp provided leadership, Oliver Lewinson and Jeff Mulcahey rebounding, Hunter Hardt outside shooting and Morgan Cassuto defense.
In addition to the Falcons and Shelby, the Rim country was represented in the tournament by the Roy Haught Bandits.
The Bandits were ousted in the semifinals by San Carlos 48-38.
All three local squads comprised players who had participated in the Town-sponsored youth (5th-6th grade) basketball league last winter.
In the girls' tournament, won by San Carlos, Payson was represented by the 49ers who advanced to the championship game before losing to SC 41-15.
Also participating in both the boys' and girls' tournaments were teams from Flagstaff and Apache Junction.