ST. JAMES, Mo. - The Fatima Comets nearly had the perfect game plan Saturday night.
Taking the air out of the ball with a deliberate offense, the Comets trailed top-seeded Blair Oaks 32-30 with a minute left to play in the championship game of the Class 3 District 9 Tournament.
But the Falcons were able to hit 4 of their last 6 free throws to advance to the Class 3 state playoffs with a 36-31 win over the second-seeded Comets.
"(Fatima) bought into the game plan and executed it well for the most part," Blair Oaks coach Ryan Fick said. "We were just able to hit enough free throws down the stretch to win."
Blair Oaks, which picked up its fifth straight district title and pushed its winning streak to 20 games, will open the Class 3 state playoffs at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Dixon at Missouri S&T. Dixon posted an 82-75 win over Eugene in the title game of the Class 3 District 10 Tournament.
The game was a stark contrast to last week's 76-46 win by the Falcons to wrap up the regular season.
"It's a testament to the kids on both sides to making this game as exciting as it was," Fick said. "But for the last two days, our kids were talking about how Fatima was too good of a team to coming in and not make adjustments and play a totally different basketball game.
"And for our guys to stay focused and respect their opponents and treat this like an entirely different game, it says a lot about their character."
The Falcons (24-3, ranked fourth in Class 3) raced out to an early 11-0 lead before the Comets (17-10) scored their first points of the opening quarter with 12 seconds left to trail 11-2 after one.
Fatima's game plan began working in the second quarter, as the Comets open the period on a 9-2 run to trail 13-11 with 4:10 left to play.
Patrick Schnieders scored seven of his 10 points during the second quarter to help the Comets get back in the game.
But Kellen Brondel made a bucket with 3:43 left to put the Falcons up 15-11 before Brandon Moore hit a pair of free throws with 1:34 left to give Blair Oaks a 17-11 lead.
Moore led the Falcons with 11 points.
Fatima, which held the ball near halfcourt for periods of time throughout the game, trailed by six at the break, but ripped off five straight points to start the third quarter to cut the deficit to 17-16.
Blair Oaks didn't score until the 1:11 mark in the third period, but the Falcons were able to put together a 6-0 run to close the quarter, highlighted by Jermey Rackers knocking down a 3 at the buzzer to give Blair Oaks a 23-16 lead.
"A big basket, obviously," Fick said. "He's only hit a few of those on the year and there wasn't any of them bigger than that one.
"That's a senior making a play."
Rackers scored seven points, while Daniel McCarty had eight.
The Falcons led by eight points twice in the fourth quarter, before the Comets cut it to one with a minute left. Schnieders canned a 3 and then Ethan Williams followed it with another 3 off a Blair Oaks turnover to cut the Falcons' lead to 32-30.
But the Falcons didn't fold.
"We just needed to get the ball in the hands of our ball handlers and free-throw shooters because they were fouling," Fick said. "We were able to do that.
"Luckily, our kids bowed their necks and did what they had to do to get a stop and a rebound and hit some free throws."
The Falcons hit 11-of-18 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Eric Boeckmann scored a game-high 12 points for the Comets.