When the game tightened in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, Henry Clay Coach Daniel Brown didn't have to say much to his veteran team.
"Calm down," he told them. "Slow your mind down a little bit. Trust what we're doing. Trust your teammates."
Big games against some of the biggest names in the state had prepared the No. 22 Devils for a close one in the 42nd District semifinals.
So Henry Clay calmly did what its coach asked and hit 13 of its 16 foul shots to close out the game and top pesky Sayre 78-67 at Bryan Station.
With the win, the Devils move on to face No. 5 Scott County in Friday's championship game for the third straight season.
The game didn't just mean a trip back to the 11th Region Tournament next week, it also was the 20th win of the season for a tradition-rich program that hadn't gotten that many victories since 2005, the last time the Devils advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
"This just adds to the trad-ition," Brown said. "Twenty wins with our schedule shows the hard work we've put in."
Tradition has been a word tossed around a lot in the Devils' locker room this year.
"We wanted to be that group that brought that tradition back," said senior Brandon Nichols, one of five players to score nine points or more for Henry Clay.
He led the Devils with 19 points, including four three-pointers that all seemed to come at key times. He also had a game-high four steals.
Sayre cut the Devils' 15-point lead to single digits three times in the fourth quarter. But the Spartans never got closer than eight points, which they did with two minutes to play.
Several times they got close to breaking through, but tired legs and missed chip shots caught up to them late.
Sayre, which got a game-best 23 points from Mike Smith, made life difficult at times for Henry Clay, especially in the first half.
The Spartans led by as many as three points late and made it 33-33 with 36 seconds left before the break. A Wes Kimball three-pointer gave the Devils the edge going into the half.
"They really gave a tremendous effort," Brown said of Sayre. "They gave us everything we wanted."
Henry Clay got 17 points apiece from Jordan Green and Kendrick Prewitt. Trey Grundy came off the bench to add 14 points for the Devils, who have won four of their last six.
That balance and depth gave Henry Clay a real edge, Brown said.
"On any given night, we'll have a different guy step up," he said. "That really helped us out tonight. It made it difficult on Sayre because they couldn't concentrate on just one person."
SAYRE (15-10) — Freeman 4-8 0-0 10, Smith 10-19 3-3 23, Haggin 4-8 0-0 10, Brewer 4-8 3-5 11, Miller 3-5 3-4 10, Patterson 1-7 0-2 3, Goodman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 9-14 67.
henry clay (20-9) — Stewart 1-5 0-0 2, K. Prewitt 6-8 2-2 17, Nichols 6-13 3-4 19, Kimball 4-8 0-3 9, Green 6-10 2-5 17, Grundy 4-10 6-8 14, Patton 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-55 16-22 78.
Sayre 16 17 11 23—67
Henry Clay 22 14 18 24—78