AMHERST, Mass. -- The Monument Mountain boys basketball team missed eight of its first 13 free throws in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Western Massachusetts Division 3 semi-final.
Graham Herrick was 2-for-2 when it mattered most.
Herrick knocked down a pair from the charity stripe with 6 seconds on the clock to give the Spartans a 61-59 win over Wahconah and a berth in Saturday’s sectional championship game against Easthampton (17-5), an 85-52 winner over Sabis on Tuesday night.
Monument’s 5-for-13 performance at the line in the final frame up until the closing seconds did not enter Herrick’s head, the 6-foot-1 junior said.
“I just tried not to think about it,” Herrick said. “I just put my shot up like I did in practice.”
Those misses earlier in the quarter were very much on the mind of Monument Mountain coach Mike Saporito, who remembered a game in early January in Dalton when the Spartans couldn’t close the deal at the line and nearly allowed Wahconah back into it before surviving with a 46-38 win.
This time around, fifth-seeded Wahconah (14-8) battled back from a 47-37 deficit entering the fourth quarter to tie the game with a Kevin Huban 3-pointer with 20 seconds left.
Monument got the ball into the front court and called timeout with 16 seconds left.
Freshman Dion Brown drove the lane and put up a good shot that rimmed out. But Herrick, who had set a high post screen to free Brown, crashed the boards, got the carom and got to the line with 6.4 seconds on the clock.
He calmly hit both, and Wahconah inbounded the ball and got it to the baseline at the other end in four passes. But a shot that beat the buzzer went off the back of the rim, and top-seeded Monument (19-3) survived to earn its first trip to the sectional final since 1999.
Herrick finished with a team-high 18 points, and Kevin Troiano and Noah Helmke added 13 apiece in the win.
Huban scored a game-high 22, and Antwuan Fye scored 12 for Wahconah.
Both did a lot of their damage in the fourth, when Huban scored nine and Fye had 10 in the comeback.
“Fye’s a good player, and we’ve had trouble with quicker guards all year,” Saporito said. “We’ve got a lot of big guys and a lot of good basketball players … We don’t have a lot of guys who are swift on their feet. Other than [Noel] Powell and Dion Brown, we don’t have a lot of quickness laterally, and we had trouble keeping guys in front of us pretty much the whole night.”
Monument Mountain was able to get a little bit of breathing room with a 5-0 run late in the second quarter that helped the Spartans take a 28-23 lead into the locker room.
It came out of the locker room with an 8-0 spurt to grab the game’s first double-digit lead.
Troiano got things started when he drove the left wing and got to the line, where he made one of two. The next time down, Troiano set up Helmke for a 3-pointer to make it 32-23. Then it was Herrick’s turn at the line, where he made one of two after being fouled in the post.
Finally, Caleb Carlson drilled a 3 to cap the run as Monument scored on its first four possessions of the half.
It was an 10-point lead after three quarters, but Tom O’Connor (11 points) hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth for Wahconah, who kept it in single digits throughout the period.
Helmke scored from the elbow to give Monument a 55-48 lead with 3:30 on the clock, but Wahconah went on an 11-4 run to tie it.
Fye scored six straight, the last two in transition, to make it 56-54
After Troiano scored a 15-footer, Huban drove the lane to get Wahconah back within a pair.
With 40 seconds on the clock, Brown made one of two at the stripe to make it 59-56 before Huban’s triple tied it, setting the stage for Herrick’s game-winning points.