BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- Joshua Talton's offense got the Monroe City boys basketball team back in the game. His defense sealed the deal.
Talton faced down Kansas City Central senior Jordan Fortune as Fortune dribbled up the court. The Blue Eagles trailed the Panthers 43-41 with the final seconds ticking off the clock, and Fortune held for the final shot.
All of a sudden, Talton swiped at the ball and knocked it away from Fortune. The two gave chase into the backcourt and Fortune recovered, but not in time to get a shot off as Monroe City hung on for the 43-41 victory in the Class 3 quarterfinals at Blue Springs High School.
"I saw him try to do a fake and I knew he was going to do a crossover. I put my hand in and tipped it back, and that was it," Talton said. "I was just hyped to see that ball and I saw the time running out. I knew we were going to the final four."
The Panthers head to their fourth final four in program history and first since the 1994-95 season, where they will face Charleston (27-4) at 6:20 p.m. Friday at JQH Arena on the Missouri State University campus in the state semifinals.
"Indescribable," Monroe City senior Bryce Stark said. "It really is. It's great. To see everybody out here, all the love, it's indescribable"
It took a herculean effort from Talton and the Panthers to have an opportunity to win. At halftime, Monroe City (28-2) held a 23-21 advantage. A disastrous third quarter that ended with a halfcourt, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Kansas City Central's Claivon Duncan put the Blue Eagles ahead 35-28 with all the momentum heading to the fourth.
"It's always kind of a gut punch when someone hits a shot like that, but our kids have been down before," Monroe City coach Brock Edris said.
The Panthers' defense went to work in the fourth quarter. Kansas City Central turned the ball over six times, including on five straight possessions, and managed five total shots in the final frame.
"Logan Buhlig came in and didn't have a great offensive game for us, but we got into our three-quarter court pressure and he did some things with his length and was able to force some turnovers," Edris said.
Stark noticed Buhlig's impact, too.
"We were running a press, and Logan's defense is really lengthy," Stark said. "He gets lots of tips. That was a credit to him."
The Panthers turned those turnovers into points, with Talton as the main beneficiary. Talton scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, converting a three-point play with 4:30 remaining to tie the game at 35.
"Anybody could have stepped up, but I saw my opportunity and went to go get it," Talton said.
The Blue Eagles (23-7) briefly regained the lead with Duncan splitting a pair of free throws, but Josiah Talton -- Josh's twin brother -- knocked down a 15-foot jumpshot to put Monroe City ahead for good.
"I kept whispering to myself, ‘It's in God's hands,'" Josiah Talton said. "Our team, we are good about coming together as a team and we can communicate, and that's what we did."
After putting the Panthers ahead for the final time, Josiah Talton had a feeling they wouldn't surrender the lead again.
"We had all the momentum then," he said. "We just wanted to stay up and play good defense, play our hearts out."
It still took a fantastic defensive play at the end from Joshua Talton, who had a game-high 18 points, to seal the deal.
"He's a great defender. I had all the trust in him," Josiah Talton said. "He's my brother and I knew he would clutch up."
The entire team feels like a family, and watching two sophomores step up in the end filled Stark's senior heart with joy.
"They are like my little brothers. I've known them for years," Stark said. "It's great for sure."
Fortune was Kansas City Central's leading scorer with 16 points and Duncan followed with 10. The Blue Eagles averaged 69.5 points per game in the first four postseason contests, but once again Monroe City had the answer for a strong offense.
"They scored 80 points against University Academy Charter, and we hold them to 41 points," Edris said. "Our offense was kind of our best defense, also. Our shot selection kind of controlled the tempo of the game."
Now that defense has the Panthers in the state semifinals.
"We were in the locker room after the game and were like, ‘Wow,'" Monroe City senior Dalton McAfee said. "Everyone was emotional. Everyone had tears in their eyes. It's crazy. It hasn't sunk in for me yet, and I know it hasn't for most of the team."