It’s the kind of game the Phoenix admittedly have found a way to lose a few times this winter. Not this time, though. Andrew Darling — he of the earlier ‘T’ — sank two free throws to reclaim the lead with 2:22 to go, and Spruce Mountain kept cashing in from the line to polish off a 58-49 victory at the Phoenix Dome.

“I’ve been really hard on them in articles, in the media, challenging their mental toughness. I’ve been a little bit criticized for it, but I’ve been preaching it all season. It’s starting to get there,” Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey said. “They did exactly what you need to do to win close ball games. Took care of the ball, made your free throws, played great defense and rebounded in the last minute. If you can do those things, you should extend the lead and win comfortably.”

Spruce Mountain, which shut out Mt. Blue in overtime to edge Mt. Blue in Farmington two weeks ago, went 12-for-15 from the line in the fourth quarter and limited the Cougars to only two offensive rebounds in that stretch.

Caulin Parker led the Phoenix (7-7) with 14 points and nine rebounds before a full house on Senior Night and the final home game of the regular season. Darling delivered 11 points, five rebounds and five steals.

Mt. Blue (3-12) was held to 33 percent shooting. Evan Backus bolstered the Cougars with 14 points and six rebounds. Spruce Mountain contained junior center Zack Mittelstadt to 12 points and 14 boards. Cooper Hollingsworth chipped in 10 points.

“We missed too many free throws, and that’s the difference in the game, when you think about it,” Mt. Blue coach Kevin Main said. “We had to foul at the end of the game, and they made their free throws to push it up to a nine-point game. It was pretty much a four, five, six-point game all the way. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

The Cougars were 13-for-26 from the line, including 10 misses by Mittelstadt, who was surely fatigued from the Phoenix’s defensive effort.

Darling drew the primary assignment, but Bessey instructed the other four players on the floor at any given time to offer help.

“Up to their place, when we held them scoreless, that was with all five guarding Mittelstadt,” Bessey said. “We put Austin on him, and he works his butt off. They did a really job executing that to perfection. He’s going to get his points.”

Hollingsworth scored four quick points, followed by a Cole Dorman 3-pointer, to tie it at 48. Spruce Mountain didn’t allow a field goal thereafter.

Darling and Noah Preble each knocked down a pair from the line to reestablish the Phoenix’s lead. Andrew and Austin Darling and Preble were a combined 5-for-6 in the final 41 seconds.

“Their record doesn’t indicate how good a team they are,” Bessey said of Mt. Blue. “You walk away feeling that you beat a good team, no question.”

Nine lead changes characterized the first three quarters, many of the swings due to Spruce Mountain’s sizzling success from 3-point range.

The Phoenix hit six in the first half and nine in all from beyond the arc. Mason Shink (nine) and Brett Frey (six) provided all their points off the bench in that fashion.

“We talked about in the second half we had to really tighten up on that, and I thought we did a better job. We dug ourselves in the hole by allowing those early 3s,” Main said. “We’re a young team. We’re not consistent night-in, night-out. When you have a young team that’s hard to do. You’ve got to keep working at it. It’s just a process.”

Spruce Mountain led 14-11 after one quarter and 30-26 at the half. A bank shot, fall-away 3 from Preble highlighted an 11-0 run in the third, when the Phoenix kept Mittlestadt off the board.

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