The free throw skimmed off the rim and the celebration was on.
The Central High School boys basketball players ran down the court, fists flying in the air.
The Warriors did it.
They held on Friday night to defeat Delta 52-51 in the Warrior Challenge at Central High School and end a 27-game losing streak, going back to the 2010-11 season. Central was 0-24 last season.
“It feels so great, like a big weight lifted off our shoulders,” Central senior Preston Grandbouche said. “We worked all summer just for this one game, just to get a win. It paid off.”
Trey Fair led Central with 15 points. Clayton Squire added 10.
“We had to get everything right,” Fair said. “We had a slip, but we picked up at halftime and got the W.
“This is it, finally.”
Chris Black led Delta with 14 points. The senior, though, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 0.6 seconds left to tie the game and a chance to win it.
“I’ll take Chris Black a 1,000 times in a row (in that situation),” Delta coach Von Mitchell said. “He’s completely invested all the time. He practices like that. He’s our leader. We couldn’t have had a better guy at the line. He’ll hit way more of those.”
Black was 5 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Central (1-1) could’ve put Delta (0-2) away earlier if it more free throws down the stretch. The Warriors missed seven straight in the final three minutes. They shot 38.5 percent from the foul line (10 of 26) for the game.
“What a relief,” Central coach Ryan Hayden said. “What a way for our kids to go out there and play their tails off. So many times we went out there and worked just like that, but the ball doesn’t bounce our way. It’s frustrating for the kids to work that hard and it not pan out. It’s nice to have it turn out our way even though we weren’t sure it would.”
The teams exchanged leads, with neither team leading by more than five points in the first half.
Central went on a 15-6 run in the third quarter to open a seven-point lead, 43-36, but Delta made a 6-2 run to get within a basket going into the fourth quarter.
The teams were tied three times in the fourth quarter before Black hit a pair of free throws to give the Panthers a 51-49 lead with 2:22 left.
Hayden called a timeout to set up the offense. After the Warriors moved the ball around, Grandbouche hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 52-51 lead.
“We were moving the ball around, looking for open shots,” Grandbouche said. “My shots weren’t falling earlier in the game. You’ve got to be confident and put it up.”
“That was huge,” Hayden said. “We talk all the time about taking what the defense gives us. If they sink down in a zone like that, they were really wanting to protect the paint. Preston stepped up and he nailed it. I’ve got all the trust in the world in Preston Grandbouche.”
Delta missed on its next possession and fouled Central on the rebound, but Matt Henderson missed both free throws with 1:14 left.
Henderson got another chance at the foul line, but missed both free throws again with 12 seconds left.
The Panthers drove to the basket, missed, chased down a loose ball rebound, missed and Black was fouled with 0.6 seconds left.
“(The Warriors) had enough,” Hayden said. “They are such a resilient bunch. They worked their tails off to this point. They knew it was close and they went out there and took it.”