NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Asked to describe the difference between last year’s McCann Tech boys basketball team and this year’s Tri-County League Champions, Hornets senior Billy Galipeau had a simple answer.
“Heart,” he said.
That heart was on full display in Tuesday’s 77-67 win over Hampden Charter to clinch an outright league title and send the Hornets into Thursday’s State Vocational Tournament with a 16-4 record.
McCann Tech looked to be cruising to its second win in a row when Galipeau stole the ball and set up Jake Tower for a bucket that gave their team a 52-32 lead midway through the third quarter.
But Hampden Charter, which beat McCann last winter in the first round of the Western Mass Division 4 tournament, showed some heart of its own, rallying to tie it, 63-63, with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in the fourth.
McCann then closed on a 12-4 run to make sure it did not have to share its title with runner-up Pioneer Valley Christian, who finished one game back in the final Tri-County standings.
On senior night with a packed house cheering them on, there was no way the Hornets were going to fold, Galipeau said.
“Coach told us that we really needed to crack down,” he said of the fourth quarter stand. “We didn’t want to lose the last one at home. We haven’t lost here all year. We weren’t going to start tonight.
“You couldn’t ask for a better senior night. It was great all the way around.”
Galipeau finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds as three Hornets finished in double figures. Logan Tower put in 20, and Jake Tower added 17. Steven LeMire contributed seven -- all at the foul line -- and Lukas Zelazo grabbed 11 rebounds to go with six points.
Just like winning at home, getting contributions across the lineup has been a theme for these Hornets.
“We talk about, ‘Next man up,’ all the time, and everybody stepped up tonight,” first-year coach Chris Bullett said. “I couldn’t be happier with the way they played. It’s hot in here. The place is packed. Everybody stepped up.”
For a while it looked like the McCann would be able to laugh it up.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Hornets took control of the game with a 13-4 run midway through the second. Galipeau scored seven straight, including a putback and a 3-pointer, during that stretch.
McCann took a 37-28 lead into the locker room and then outscored the Wolves, 15-4, to start the second half.
But Hampden rallied behind Justin Rodriguez, who scored 11 of his game-high 27 points in the third quarter.
The Wolves cut McCann’s 20-point lead in half by the end of the third quarter and used a 14-5 spurt to get within one when Rodriguez fed Damian Ocasio (17 points) in transition to make it 62-61.
Moments later, Rodriguez drove the lane to tie the game, 63-63.
But on McCann’s next possession, Zelazo put back and offensive rebound. Then, after the Hornets forced a turnover, Jake Tower was fouled in the post and hit both free throws to make it 67-63.
Galipeau then stole the ball out of McCann’s full-court press, and LeMire ended up on the line. He hit both shots to make it a six-point lead with 1:43 on the clock. After LeMire grabbed a rebound at the other end, Jake Tower was fouled and hit one shot to put McCann up, 70-63.
Hampden was able to answer with a bucket to get within five, but the Hornets scored the next five and went 5-for-6 at the line in the final minute to put the game away.
“They put a good run on us,” Bullett said. “We were up 20 and we blew the lead. I just asked them in the huddle how much they wanted it. We’re playing for a league championship and to get a big seed in Western Mass.
“Obviously, they wanted it.”
Before the Western Mass seeds are announced on Saturday, McCann will play in the State Vocational Small School Championship, which begins Thursday with the second-seeded Hornets hosting No. 3 Nashoba Valley.