GAYLORD - Trailing by nine points entering the fourth quarter, the Frankfort Panthers mounted a furious comeback to earn a thrilling 59-57 victory over Hillman to advance to the Division 4 State Semifinals.
The Panthers led by a point after the first quarter of play, but Hillman took a 30-25 lead at halftime. The Tigers then opened things up in the third quarter, leading by as much as 12 points.
Frankfort rallied in the fourth quarter, keyed by the play of Emmerson Farmer, who scored 10 of his game-high 20 points in the final frame, including a three-pointer that gave Frankfort their first lead since the second quarter at 53-52.
Hillman responded on the next possession, when just over a minute to go, standout junior Trenton Taratuta got into the lane to score the basket, plus a foul. He would miss the free throw, but the Tigers still led 54-53.
Frankfort re-took the lead on the next trip down the floor when Bryce Plesha fought off two Tigers in the paint to grab an offensive rebound that he was able to put back in, while drawing a foul. He would make the free throw to give the Panthers the lead for good at 56-54.
“That’s exactly what they do. They find a way to win. Even when everyone counts us out. That’s been their M.O. all year,” Frankfort Head Coach Dan Loney said after the win. “It’s a special group of kids. And when they’re challenged, and their backs are against the wall, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Frankfort senior Nick Stevenson said, “It feels even better because no one expected us to be here except for us. So, we just stuck and kept our composure and kept with it and just kept going.”
Stevenson finished with 13 points on the night to go with Farmer’s 20, and Xander Sauer added 10 for Frankfort.
For the Tigers, Braylon Firman led them with 18 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Taratuta added 16, and Caleb Hiveley chipped in with 15. Hillman finishes the season with a 22-5 overall record.
Frankfort (18-8) keeps their magical tournament run alive, and they will now face Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian in a Division 4 State Semifinal at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. It will be their first trip back to East Lansing since finishing runners-up in 2019.