ALBANY -- Deerfield-Windsor coach Gordy Gruhl sought a test when he placed the call to the coast asking for First Presbyterian Christian Academy to visit mid-season.
And the Knights got the test Saturday, but it proved to be an exam even previously unbeaten Deerfield couldn't pass. First Presbyterian Christian rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to pull out a 58-57 win in the final seconds of a game that matched an annual GISA Class AAA power against the back-to-back defending Class A state champs.
"Both teams got better because of that game," said Gruhl, whose Knights fell to 11-1 on the season. "It had great atmosphere. We learned a lot about our team."
Knotted up at 57-all with less than 30 seconds to play, Highlanders' guard Jordan Johnson was fouled on a baseline jumper and connected on 1-of-2 free throws with three seconds left to seal the win for First Presbyterian Christian (15-1).
"When Jordan went to the line, I felt comfortable because he's really a clutch player," Highlanders' coach David Jones said. "I really felt like he'd make both of them."
Jones, whose team had a 43-game winning streak end earlier this season to a Class AAAA public school in South Carolina, didn't have a cozy feeling for much of the fourth quarter. He saw his inside presence disappear with two minutes to play when both AJ Ansley and DJ Felder fouled out within 20 seconds of each other.
"I'm in trouble," Jones said he thought when Ansley and Felder took a seat on the bench with the game tied at 55-55. "I was scared. That's two of my three best rebounders gone with the game on the line."
Deerfield went ahead, 57-55, on Duane Anderson's two free throws with 1:39 to play, but Johnson tied the game back up with under a minute to go when he nailed a jumper inside the arc.
The Knights were whistled for a five-second violation on their ensuing possession, which led to Johnson's winner from the charity stripe. A last-ditch Deerfield inbound pass was stolen with three seconds left by the Highlanders, who had once trailed, 37-26, at halftime.
Gruhl pointed to the Knights' uncharacteristic 9-of-19 mark from the free-throw line as a key ingredient to the loss.
"Our free throw shooting wasn't very good (Saturday)," he said. "The last two years, we've made a bunch of clutch free throws. Sometimes you just have those nights."
Deerfield was led by Michael Matthews' 20 points, 15 of which came on five 3s. Matthews hit back-to-back treys during a 14-4 run to end the first half.
"That kid can shoot it," Jones said of Matthews. "We knew by halftime that he was the go-to man and tried to get our kids out quicker on him."
Johnson, the Highlanders' clutch junior guard, finished with 18, while Felder ended the night early with 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
The Knights dominated FPCA inside, led by Reggie Brown's 10 boards to go along with 14 points. Deerfield outrebounded the Highlanders 38-27.
Jones didn't make any excuses for his team's deficit inside the paint.
"It's just like kids misbehaving in school," he remarked. "Psychologists got a (darn) excuse for everybody. He got spanked one day too late or his dad yelled at him. They just beat us on the boards. This is the only team this year that has outrebounded us."
Meanwhile, Deerfield moves on with a blemish on its record and gets back to work this week, playing host to Tattnall Square in a non-region game Tuesday. Gruhl knew Saturday's game would be a war, and he's glad the Knights got a taste of fourth-quarter drama.
"I told the kids before we played the game, whether you win it or lose it, it's not the state championship," he said. "We wanted to see where we are."
DWS GIRLS 58, FPCA 28:
The Lady Knights dominated from start to finish, hitting on 9-of-11 first-quarter shots to build a 17-point halftime lead and ended with a shooting line above 50 percent.
The Lady Knights' defense wasn't half bad, either. For the eighth consecutive game, Deerfield held its opponent to under 30 points. The last team to score more than 30 (Tattnall Square) was also the last team to beat the Lady Knights (12-3), who just so happen to host Tattnall Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
"(Tattnall) embarrassed us a little bit in the first half (of the first meeting)," Deerfield coach Ty Kinslow said. "It's a big game because Tattnall is one of the top two teams in the state, so we're looking forward to them coming down here."
The Lady Knights' were led Saturday by Sabrina Curry's 14 points and four steals. Heather Lash added nine points and nine rebounds, while Sarah Shellhaas chipped in nine. Lauren Fulford had six assists, four steals and no turnovers.
FPCA (6-6) was led by Shoquoia Crockett's 11 points.