43 / 28
      49 / 27
      56 / 30

      Two to go

      The Iberia Rangers had an easy one Saturday.

      A one-point win decided in the last 6 seconds.


      Because that was three times easier than their previous game.

      Next stop: Columbia and the Final Four.

      But last things first, as the fifth-ranked Rangers edged the eighth-ranked Crane Pirates 51-50 in the Class 2 quarterfinals Saturday in Springfield.

      Tough start for Iberia, as the Pirates hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter to build a seven-point lead.

      "We were a little bit shell-shocked, to be honest with you," Iberia coach Steve Schofield said.

      Honesty is always appreciated.

      Iberia was down one at the half, up one at the end of three, and built a 48-43 in the fourth, before Crane battled back to tie it late, 50-50.

      "They don't like to make anything easy on coach Schofield," Schofield said.

      The Pirates had a steal and a chance to win it in the final 10 seconds, but Zach Roark stole it back with 6 seconds left, was fouled and hit one of two free throws to make it 51-50.

      "Zach had a good game and made some big plays for us," Schofield said. "He probably played one of his better games of the year."

      Crane's final shot at the buzzer --- a shot guarded by 6-10 sophomore Dexter Frisbee --- was off the mark.

      That was the "easy" one on this road to Columbia, because Iberia's game with Gainesville in the sectionals went to three overtimes --- even though the Rangers had a 13-point lead in the third quarter.

      "We haven't had a lot of close games this season," Schofield said, "and I think after we got that lead, we thought (Gainesville) would just back down. But that doesn't happen this time of year."

      Gainesville had the ball with chances to win it at the end of regulation and the second overtime. The Rangers' Dustin Bloodgood hit the big shot in the latter, as his 3-pointer with 30 seconds left forced the third OT.

      Iberia had a chance to win it in the first overtime, before winning it in the third. Clinging to a two-point lead with 4 seconds left in the final OT, Darrien Dickey hit two free throws to seal it.

      "I wasn't sure we could handle situations like this," Schofield, "because we just haven't had many of them."

      Before these last-team-to-score-wins battles, only two of Iberia's 24 victories had been decided by less than 14 points this season; the Rangers won 17 games by more than 20 points; 13 by more than 30.

      "I think these last two games were more impressive than those wins, just because of the competition," Schofield said. "We did a great job."

      Iberia, which is seeking its first state basketball championship, is back in the Final Four for the second straight year after going 45 years between trips to the semifinals. The Rangers finished third last year.

      Is this joy or relief?

      "Definitely both," Schofield said. "I think we've been a little bit tight the last couple of games, to be honest with you. Good teams will make you do that, but we haven't played as well as I think we can.

      "There were a lot of high expectations this year, but now, I think we can finally take a breath."

      But there are certainly no more breathers, as Iberia (28-1) gets braced for a test with the second-ranked Canton Tigers (27-1) in the semifinals at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at the Hearnes Center.

      The Tigers are 54-3 the last two seasons, losing last year in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Salisbury. They have three players --- Brandon Berhorst, Tyler Niemann and Gabe McKenzie --- who have scored more than 1,000 points in their careers.

      They'll enter Saturday's bout riding a 24-game winning streak.

      "They shoot the ball very well; we're going to have a tough time guarding them, Schofield said. "But I think they're going to have some problems guarding us, too."

      This Final Four promises to be a doozy, as four of the top-five ranked teams in the state will be there. In the other semifinal, No. 1 Sacred Heart (29-0) squares off against No. 4 Thayer (27-3).

      "I think it's going to be a great Final Four," Schofield said. "Last year, Salisbury was kind of heads and shoulders above everybody else, but this year, it's a lot more even."

      The Rangers are seeking just the school's second state title in any sport --- Iberia captured the state baseball crown in 2001 under the direction of now-Blair Oaks coach Harv Antle. Harv is obviously partial to the color green.

      Now, after a pair of close calls, the basketball team is back for another chance.

      Two to go.