Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Monument Mountain Outlasts Wahconah in D3 West

By Ethan Winter (@EWints)

Amherst, Mass. – For the second straight night, a Western Mass boys’ basketball semifinal game came down to the final shot, and fortunately for the top-seeded Monument Mountain Spartans, this one didn’t go in.

With the game on the line, all tied up at 59 apiece, Monument Mountain junior forward Graham Herrick stepped up to the line and sank both free throws to give the Spartans a 61-59 lead with just under seven seconds remaining in regulation. That lead would hold up as Monument Mountain advanced to the Division 3 West championship game against Easthampton, which will be played Saturday at UMass.

 “I was just trying not to think, I knew that those were probably the most important shots of my career," Herrick said. "So I just tried not to think and put them in like we do in practice."

Ironically, it was the Spartans' poor free throw shooting that had let the fifth-seeded Wahconah Warriors back into the game.

“What was going through my mind, was the same thing that was going through my mind at Wahconah up there [earlier in the season] when we couldn’t make a free throw in the fourth quarter and they cut a 16 point lead all the way down to six,” said Monument Mountain head coach Mike Saporito recalling the Spartans previous matchup with the Warriors earlier in the regular season, a 46-38 Monument win. “The free throws are an important phase of the game, we are an inside out team, it took us a while to get to the line and when we got to the line we just didn’t make shots and that caused a lot of stress for us… that caused a lot of stress but [freshman] Dion Brown made an important free throw, Graham Herrick made an important free throw[s], so I don’t know what the stats are going to look like, I wouldn’t imagine that it will look great, but at least we were able to make some of them.”

The Spartans got their first lead of the game early in the second quarter when Noel Powell scored a nifty shot to give the Spartans a 15-14 lead. The Spartans would hold that lead all the way until late in the fourth quarter when Kevin Huban drained a corner three with 16.7 seconds left in regulation.

That three had erased what was once a 12 point lead for Monument with about six minutes left in the third quarter, but the Warriors continued to slowly chip away at that Spartan lead.

The comeback was powered by Huban (22 points) and Antwaun Fye who scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter alone. 

Despite encountering early foul trouble, Brown was able to come in in the second half and make an impact on the game and showed great poise in the game’s most crucial moments, driving to the basket, that set up Herrick’s game winning free throws.

“It feels great to know that he has trust in me,” said Brown. “In practice, we go through plays, last minute shots, they are never usually for me, but this time it was and I was really happy.”

He played much of the fourth quarter with three fouls but was still able to play outstanding defense when it mattered most.

“I just knew that I couldn’t get another one with four fouls and I had to do my best to stay on my feet and not go for any fakes which was really hard,” said Brown.

Saporito admitted that he expected Brown to pass it back to Herrick who was set up at around the free throw line in the lane, but gave him credit for showing confidence in himself to drive to the basket and go up with the shot.

“Credit [Brown]. He’s got some ice water in his veins and we put a lot of trust in him,” said Saporito.

The win puts the Spartans back into the Western Mass title game for the first time since 1999, and brings them one step closer to achieving their season long goal of winning their first Western Mass title since 1979.

“Every high school team wants to get to their regional/sectional final and for us winning Western Mass has always been a goal of ours ever since I showed up seven years ago to coach this team. We’ve got blank space in our gym, we look at it all the time, we dream of filling that space and now it’s closer to becoming a reality and we just have to stay focused… we will be ready to go and hopefully we will shoot well, that always helps,” concluded Saporito.

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