LENOX, Mass. — Apparently, Mother Nature is not the only one who thinks it is March.
It was a maddening, tournament-like atmosphere on Wednesday at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, where the host Millionaires outlasted their rival, Lee, for a 47-44 win that ended the Wildcats’ postseason hopes on the last night of the regular season.
Tyler Shepard and Kevin Coakley scored 10 points apiece as Lenox completed a season sweep on Senior Night and, more importantly, left the Wildcats standing on nine wins.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Lee coach Tom Finnegan said. “The last three games, we found ways to put ourselves in position to win, and we only needed one to get in [the Western Mass tournament].
“It’s just a bad feeling I have for the kids. It’s not that I don’t care [about winning], but these kids have worked so hard during the summer and during the season. To come up three points short, it’s heart-breaking for them.”
Lenox coach Scott Sibley, happy though he was to get the win, shared a little of Finnegan’s sympathy for the Lee players.
“Unfortunately, being our neighbors just to the south, they won’t be joining us in the tournament,” Sibley said. “It’s something that we try in the county to get as many of us in there as possible. But seedings matter for us having lost three of our last four coming in.
“I wish they had gotten their 10th before they came here.”
Lee (9-11) put up a heck of a fight.
The SRO crowd had plenty to cheer about all night long.
Neither team led by more than seven points. The second half featured four ties and four lead changes.
Lee’s Tyler Buratto (eight points, 15 rebounds) tied the game for the last time when he knocked down a free throw with 2 minutes, 54 seconds left to play.
On Lenox’s next trip, Thomas Hedges scored in the post to make it 42-40, Millionaires (11-9).
After a Coakley defensive rebound, Tyler Shepard drove to the basket, got fouled and hit a free throw to make it a three-point game. Moments later, Shepard connected with a jumper from the foul line to push Lenox’s lead to 45-40.
Shepard, a rare junior on the senior-laden Lenox roster, was a major contributor in the second half with nine of his 10 points.
“Tyler Shepard played like a man tonight,” Lenox senior Patrick Colvin said. “He probably had 20 points. He was beating his man off the dribble the whole game. He won us that game offensively.
“That was the best game he’s played all year.”
Shepard missed a front-end on Lenox’s next possession, but a Thomas Hedges rebound got Lenox the ball with 40 seconds left. Hedges got to the line three seconds later and converted both ends of a one-and-one to make it 47-40.
On Lee’s ensuing possession, Josh Sampson was fouled making a 3-pointer and hit the free throw to get his team within three points with 33 seconds left.
Lee got the ball three more times and missed two foul shots in that 33 seconds, leaving the margin right there. A final, desperation play that started with an inbounds 90 feet from the basket was broken up by Lenox’s defense, and the buzzer sounded.
“It was really, really scary” Shepard said of the closing moments. “Lee had a lot of balls going their way. We were not going to give up. I know that for a fact. No matter what would have happened, we would have just kept holding them down and playing defense.
“We just kept doing that, and because of that we got the win.
“But it was scary. Very scary.”