SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- After waiting nearly three decades to get back to the state semi-finals, the Drury boys basketball team was not about to back down without a fight.
So when Worcester Tech took a 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils were not done.
Drury rallied to within six points with a minute and a half left to play, but Tech hung on for a 70-62 win and a berth in Saturday’s Division 4 State Championship game.
It came as no surprise to Drury coach Jack Racette that his team battled back. Just like it was no surprise to the veteran coach that this Blue Devil squad was the one to hoist the school’s first boys basketball Western Mass title banner since 1990.
“I knew we were hungry this year,” Racette said. “Winning the Western Mass Championship was our goal to start, and this was all icing on the cake.
“And we had a chance. I’m not going to boo-hoo about what the state does, but we’re playing a school with 700 boys. And we have 140 boys.”
And Worcester Tech has a big student body that includes on very big student body: the 6-foot-3 frame of senior center Brendon Hamilton, who scored 25 points and grabbed 26 rebounds
“Our biggest guy is 5-10, and there’s a not a lot of answers,” Racette said with a wry smile. “He’s a man. He’s a man among boys out there. We knew he was going to be a tough stop coming in. We tried to do different things. We tried to get physical with him. But we didn’t get it done.”
Scott McGuire Jr. led Drury with 22 points, and Reece Racette had 19 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in the last game of his stellar career.
Hunter Sarkis finished with nine points on three first-half 3-pointers that helped Drury take a 30-27 lead at half-time.
Tech led late after a Hamilton putback gave his team a 27-25 lead, but Sarkis hit a 3-pointer on an assist from Racette on Drury’s next possession. And Racette drove the baseline with 40 seconds left to put the Blue Devils ahead by three.
The third quarter was all Worcester Tech, as Hamilton scored 10 points, and Tech turned a narrow deficit into a 52-38 lead when Hamilton ended the quarter with a thunderous dunk at the buzzer.
It was an 18-point margin moments into the fourth quarter, but McGuire set up Max Daugherty for a bucket to start what ultimately became a 22-10 stretch for the Blue Devils.
The key came midway through when Drury scored eight straight: a conventional three-point play by Racette, another Racette bucket in transition, a McGuire free throw and a bucket by Dante Woodson after back-to-back offensive rebounds by McGuire to make it 64-53 with just less than three minutes to play.
Actually, it was 63-53 at that moment because the scoreboard had inadvertently given Tech an extra point during that stretch.
So when McGuire was fouled pulling down an offensive rebound and hit both shots with 2:09 on the clock, it looked like he was trimming it to eight points, but it was really a seven-point game. And when Racette scored in the post with 1:25 left, he made it 67-61.
But that was as close as Drury could get. The hole was just a little too deep for the time remaining.
Jack Racette said that the intensity Drury showed during the fourth-quarter comeback was not something it could maintain for 32 minutes.
“The problem is our depth is not where we’d like it, and we couldn’t pressure the whole game like we liked to do,” he said. “When you’re at home, and you play on a little bit smaller court, we can pressure for 32 minutes. You can’t do that here.
“We had to take the pressure off a little bit. McGuire and Reece really can’t come out of that game. So we knew we took it off, and we knew we had to amp it up at some point. We did in the fourth quarter, and you saw what it did to them. We committed a lot of fouls, but we also got a lot of steals.”
Drury (19-6) saw the end of a season in which it lost to just one D4 team, Worcester Tech. Its other losses: to D3 semi-finalist Wahconah, and Division 2’s Pittsfield and Taconic, the latter a D2 Western Mass champ who plays its state semi-final on Wednesday night.
“We competed in our league, we took care of business, we got a three seed,” Racette said. “All year, we talked about having an ultimate goal that we wanted to get to, and we did get what we wanted. Back home, people will remember that they were Western Mass Champs. It’s been a long time at Drury.
“I think the younger guys are buying into the program. I think we run a great program. Ultimately, we got what we wanted into the Final Four. And you’re not playing any weak sisters when you get to the Final Four.”