By ANTHONY LABOR
HARDWICK – With five seconds to go in Saturday’s Div. III quarterfinal game between No. 7 Enosburg and No. 2 Hazen with the Wildcats up 48-47, the Hornets had an inbound pass that went off the foot of senior Owen McKinstry and the ball trickled toward center court and players from both teams jumped on it forcing a jump ball. Both teams instantly turned to the scorers table to see where the possession arrow was pointing.
After the officials put 1.1 second on the clock, Enosburg inbounded the ball to Devyn Gleason who threw up an instant shot, as he fell to the court. The shot looked like it would be off, but instead banked in off the backboard and in, sending the team into a frenzy and giving them a 50-48 victory sending them to the semifinals.
“I was thinking that was going nowhere close to the basket,” said Gleason. “I went to the floor and just watched it and saw it go in, and it was just an amazing feeling. We played an amazing game and kept fighting, so it was definitely a relief to see that go in.”
The game-winning play was one that the Hornets made up on the fly as the officials were trying to figure out how much time to put on the clock.
McKinstry, the hero of the team from the two previous games with clutch 3s, was the focus of Hazen’s defense on the final play, as they double-teamed him on the inbound giving Gleason just enough room to put up a shot.
“That was just a phenomenal basketball game between two good teams,” said Enosburg coach Chad Lovelette. “And I thought Devyn looked dialed in tonight, and obviously coming up with the biggest shot of the game, so that was great to see.
“And we kind of just made that play up when they were talking about the clock,” he added. “And they have been keying on Owen all game long, so we just ran Owen out there and we knew someone was going to cheat and slip out to the side and left Devyn open.”
It was a game in which everyone on the floor was contributing in one way or the other. Shea Howrigan led the team with 15 points, including going 4-of-6 from 3-point land. Gleason added 13 points and McKinstry had seven.
Gavin Combs added six points and battled all game in the post coming away with eight rebounds. Nate Robtoy tallied five rebounds and had some nice assists in the second half to set up teammates with easy layups.
Dan Antillon had five points in the game, including a 3-pointer in the second quarter that sparked the Hornets’ offense in the first half to give them a lead.
“Across the board, everyone did a phenomenal job out there today,” said Lovelette. “
It was a roller coaster of a game, as Hazen jumped out to a lead to start the game, as it had a 14-9 lead at the end of the first.
Enosburg completely took over in the second quarter outscoring Hazen 20-4 in the frame to go into halftime up 29-18.
Howrigan hit a 3 midway through the third quarter to put the Hornets up 39-26, but that was when Hazen’s Isaiah Baker started to take the game over. He scored 22 points in the second half alone, including 13 of the team’s 15 fourth-quarter points. He finished with 26 in the game. His effort and Enosburg going cold from the floor allowed the Wildcats to end up retaking the lead 42-41 with three and a half minutes to go. Combs hit a layup to give Enosburg a 43-42 lead before Jadon Baker’s shot gave Hazen a one-point lead again.
“We knew (Baker) was going to put up some points and he did in that second half,” said Lovelette. “He really put them on his back.”
Howrigan tied the game up 44-44 with a free throw before Isaiah Baker hit two free-throws of his own to make it 46-44. Howrigan continued to be clutch, as he hit a 3 from the top of the key to give Enosburg the lead again.
Isaiah Baker was fouled during Hazen’s next possession and stepped up and sank both free-throws to give the team the lead back. McKinstry’s shot during the Hornets’ next possession missed. Jadon Baker came down with the rebound and was fouled right off sending him to the free-throw line for a 1-and-1. He missed the first attempt and McKinstry came down with a rebound with five seconds to go. After the initial inbound resulted in a jump ball, Gleason stepped up as the clock struck zero sending the Hornets to the semifinals.
“Hazen picked it up defensively in the second half and made it tough to drive and pass the ball,” said McKinstry. “We knew we just had to keep playing with confidence and had to make adjustments in the game and we did that.”
It was the second year in a row the Hornets have knocked Hazen out of the tournament. Enosburg won last year’s meeting in the semifinals 66-55.
It’s also the second year in the row the Hornets entered the playoffs at .500 and advanced to at least the semifinals. They entered the playoffs 4-4 this season and were 10-10 going into last year’s tournament where they went to the championship game before falling to Thetford.
“It’s an absolutely amazing feeling to get back to the semifinals,” said McKinstry. “We came into the tournament 4-4, and I don’t think a lot of people thought we would get to this point again. But we are fighters and we know we can keep it going.”
The Hornets will be back on the road Wednesday when they travel to No. 6 Williamstown, who came away with a hard-fought 63-60 win over No. 14 BFA-Fairfax with a game-winning 3 at the end of their own. The two teams met last year in the quarterfinals with Enosburg on top with a 51-47 win.
“I wanted the guys to know that it wasn’t lucky that we won this game, but it was their hard work paying off,” said Lovelette. “I told them that they just played probably the toughest team in our division and beat them on their own court. Our guys have always continued to fight and battle no matter what the score is, and it’s been really showing. We did a good job peaking at the end of the regular season and have had two good games in the playoffs now, so we just need to keep doing what we are doing next week in the semifinals.”