LENOX, Mass. -- The playoffs got started a little bit early for the Lenox Millionaires.
With a berth in the Western Mass playoffs on the line, Tuesday’s season finale between Southern Division rivals Mount Greylock and Lenox provided all the feeling of playoff basketball. The seesaw battle went right down to the wire, where the host Millionaires excelled at the free throw line to walk away with a 65-60 victory.
“This was a tournament game for both teams,” Lenox coach Brian Cogswell said. “It was exciting - like a tournament game should be.”
Lenox (8-12) finished tied in second place in the Southern Division, going 5-3 in divisional play. The Mounties had their winning streak stopped at five games, falling just short of their playoff goals while closing with a 4-4 record in the division and 9-11 overall.
Knowing that so much was at stake, both sides competed with all that they had for that coveted victory and all that came with it.
“It is the best feeling in the world to make the tournament,” Lenox junior Shane Steinman said. “This is amazing. The last two years, we were 4-16 and we were not able to make the tournament. But the whole team played hard tonight, and that is what we’ve been looking for. We knew we could come out with the ‘dub’, so we just played really hard and it worked out.”
Shane Steinman had 18 points and provided some key plays down the stretch to aid in the win, most notably when he sunk a 3-pointer that tied the game with nearly four minutes left to play. Rick Armstrong delivered a great inbounds pass to Shane, who slid open in the right corner and sunk the triple to make it a 53-53 score.
“We set up a good play there,” Steinman said. “We really just wanted to come out and take a good shot, and I was pretty open. It was good that it went in, and it definitely got us a lot of momentum, so that was great.”
On the ensuing inbounds play, the Millionaires took their first lead since late in the first quarter. Jett Steinman came up with a steal and fed the ball to Luke Patella, who was fouled and then made both free throws to put Lenox ahead by two.
Patella set a nice tone for his team, as the Millionaires came through at the foul line to secure the victory. Lenox was 13-of-16 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter, which meant so much more to Coach Cogswell and the team after its free-throw shooting was an Achilles heel in losses earlier in the season.
“If you look at where we were at the beginning part of the year, I think on opening day we were 10-of-30, or something like that,” Cogswell recalled. “We do different things during the season to get us to that point, and things went much better tonight. We were playing with a lot more confidence.”
That confidence was crucial in the final minutes, when both sides locked into a tug-of-war for control. While Lenox was pushing the ball inside, getting to the line and making the shots, Greylock was pressing on defense to create turnovers and quick scoring chances. Every possession became critical as both sides slowed things down and ran their best plays.
Mount Greylock had put itself this close to its goal by making big plays that earned five straight wins which then made the playoffs even possible, and those fearless playmakers stepped up again late in Tuesday’s action. Mac Waynick came up with a steal that then led to an impressive up-and-under layup from Toby Foehl that evened things back up at 55-55, after which Lenox inched forward thanks to a pair of free throws from Patella and another from Shane Steinman. Patella then made an inside move to the net for a layup and a five-point lead with under a minute remaining, but Liam Brady answered back for Greylock with a 3-pointer from the corner to keep it a one-possession contest.
With everything on the line, it was Jett Steinman who rose up to close out a monster second half by powering his way into the paint and earning a trip to the free throw line for the deciding points. He sunk both of his free throws to stretch it back to a 62-58 advantage, capping off his night with a game-high 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and a block.
Although Mitchell Jezouit answered back for the Mounties by going strong to the hoop for another layup that kept them one basket away from retaking the lead, Lenox continued to get to the charity stripe and sink those shots. Nick Nictotra made the final three free throws, ending his night with six points, five rebounds and two assists.
“We did not miss many free throws, and that was very important,” Shane Steinman said. “We got to the line a good amount and we shot the ball pretty well there as a team. You just have to have really good basketball IQ on stuff like that and you’ve got to keep calm under pressure.”
As pivotal as the offensive execution was down the stretch, some defensive adjustments also played an important part in the win. In recognition of how difficult Mount Greylock guards Toby Foehl and Derek Paris are to contain, Lenox shifted to a different defense that helped keep the ball from reaching those scorers hands as often.
“This was the first time that we tried to use a triangle-two against them,” Cogswell said. “That kind of slowed those two guys down. We slipped into it a little towards the end of the second quarter, but we were able to get the rotation better with the three after halftime. That made a difference for us, and in the third quarter we were able to rotate the ball well and get quick layups. We were really able to get that rotation going, which made a difference as well.”
The guard duo of Foehl and Paris again led the way for the Mounties offense, as Foehl had a team-high 16 points and six rebounds and Paris chipped in 12 points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists. Mitchell Jezouit also had a strong night, closing with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. Liam Brady added seven points, while Michael Wellspeak and Mac Waynick had six points apiece.
Luke Patella closed with six points, five rebounds and two assists, and Averin Paradise had eight points and three rebounds for Lenox.
Monument Mountain won the Southern Division, with a 6-2 mark, while Lee finished tied with Lenox for second place with a 5-3 division record.