By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
It was the situation every basketball player dreams about, and Kyle Wicklund was prepared for it.
Trailing 53-52 with nine seconds left, Wicklund called for the ball, drove to the basket and was fouled.
His two free throws with 5.4 seconds remaining Thursday night lifted Ozark Christian past Champion Baptist 54-53 in the quarterfinals of the ACCA National Championship at OCC.
“About every day, I come in here and shoot free throws,” said Wicklund, who had a game-high 22 points. “At the beginning of the season, Coach said if it comes down to a game situation, he’s going to get the ball in my hands and see what we can do. Thankfully, we came out with the win tonight.”
The Ambassadors advanced to today’s semifinals, where they will face Rhema Bible, a 131-115 winner over Multnomah.
The Ambassadors overcame a difficult shooting night for both teams. OCC was 23 of 56 from the field (41.1 percent), while Champion made 20 of 60 field-goal attempts (33.3 percent).
“I call that a slobberknocker,” said OCC head coach Chris Lahm. “I don’t know if it’s ugly or just great defense on both teams’ part. You’re going to have one team happy and one team sad after that.”
The Ambassadors broke a tie at 32 early in the second half and stretched their advantage to 45-37 on a 3-pointer by Cody Goodwin — his only basket of the game — with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left.
Champion chipped away at the lead and pulled to within 50-47 on two free throws by Mo Capaci with 4:32 to go.
After Champion’s Brandon Likins missed on a drive in the lane, Champion regained possession went the ball went out of bounds under the basket. A driving layup by Zach Hendricks brought Champion to within 50-49 with 2:34 to go.
“We missed some good looks,” Lahm said of Champion’s late-game comeback attempt. “We broke down defensively late in the game and gave up a layup. We didn’t get any help coming across.”
Kendall Wingert, who scored six points, extended the lead to 52-49 with 1:18 to go, but a steal at midcourt and layup by Hendricks brought Champion to within 52-51.
After OCC missed the first of a 1-and-1 at the free-throw line, Champion took the lead 53-52 on a left-handed layup by Capaci, who scored 10 points. OCC called a timeout with 9.1 seconds to go to set up their last shot.
“Kyle wanted the ball,” Lahm said. “He wanted a clearout and we gave him a clearout. We got the foul called. The way we were shooting free throws, we were lucky to make them.”
OCC made 5-of-10 free throws while Champion was 12-of-13 at the line. Wicklund made 4-of-5 free throws, had seven rebounds and blocked three shots.
“It was one of those things,” Wicklund said. “Coach called me and I just went to the rack and knocked those free throws down.”
Likens led Champion with 20 points and eight rebounds. Champion made 1-of-18 3-point attempts, while OCC was 3-of-11 from 3-point range, including two by Will Hall.