AFTON - Persistence paid off in a big way for the Seneca, Mo., boys.

Down by 11 at one point in the first half, the Indians battled back to claim a 52-50 victory over Afton Tuesday night in the 2007-08 basketball opener for both schools.

“We played hard, but we just got a step slower as the game went on,” said Afton coach David Markes. “Even at the end, we never quit playing hard. That is one thing I can always count on these kids for - they will play as hard as they can. But we need other people to step up and get them some rest.”

“They were playing eight or nine and we played six all night.”

The Eagles fell behind 51-43 with a half minute to play but made a last-gasp effort as Coy Crane downed two free throws and Ryan Markes scored from inside to leave Seneca with a 51-47 edge with 16 seconds left.

A free throw by Maverick Sonis proved to be the clincher as Ryan Markes drilled an NBA-range trey just before the buzzer to create the final score.

“Seneca plays a tough man defense - they're the type team we would see in the regional or area,” said David Markes, who was making his debut as Afton's coach. “They are scrappy and very physical. Offensive boards killed us tonight. When we got tired, we couldn't keep them off the offensive boards.”

The Indians got five second-chance buckets on the night.

A 13-2 run, fueled by Crane, gave Afton a 19-8 lead early in the second quarter.

But Seneca got that carved down to 27-24 by intermission and finally took the lead (31-29) on a 3-point goal by Matt Wilkes with 5:53 left in the third.

The lead see-sawed back and forth until a trey by Patrick Bennett at 6:39 of the fourth gave the Indians the lead for good, 41-38.

Crane had a game-high 21 points for the Eagles, who also picked up 14 from Ryan Markes and 13 from Shawn Free.

Bennett paced the Seneca attack with 20 points. Nick Chasten chipped in with 14 points.

Afton is idle until Nov. 30, when it travels to Fairland.

Seneca 52, Afton 50

Seneca, Mo. 8 16 12 16 - 52

Afton 15 12 11 12 - 50

Seneca - Bennett 20, Chasten 14, Wilkes 7, Sonis 3.

Afton - Crane 21, Markes 14, Free 13, Keaton 2.

3-point goals - Bennett 2, Markes 2, Crane 1.