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Northampton falls short of comeback bid in Division 1 quarterfinals loss to West Springfield

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The countdown was on.

First, the Northampton boys basketball team cut West Springfield’s big early lead to 10 midway through the third quarter. Then eight a few minutes later. Then six early in the fourth.

Four came with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left in the fourth and three followed with 2:33 left.

Finally, after trailing by 13 at the end of the first quarter and 16 early in the third, Mack Hale’s drive down the right baseline to the rim made it one with 1:33 left.

But the Blue Devils never finished the countdown, missing two 3-point attempts in the final five seconds and losing to the Terriers 53-51 in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament quarterfinals.

“There was not a second in that game where anyone on our bench thought we were going to lose the game, and that includes the tough start to it,” Northampton coach Rey Harp said. “We were in a playoff situation against a hard-working team that is fighting uphill. That’s a team that you are going to run into some stretches, it just happened to be the start of the game for us.”

No. 3 West Springfield (19-2) advances to the semifinals at American International College, where it will play No. 2 Putnam (20-1) at a time and date to be announced.

With No. 6 Northampton (13-8) trailing by four late, Jake Ross found Tyler Hannigan-Page wide open underneath to make the score 53-51 with 8.6 seconds left.

After a timeout, West Springfield’s Chris Lipscomb sailed a long pass over the top of The Blue Devils’ press, but it was too far for Dewey King to chase down and the Blue Devils retook possession.

Northampton worked the ball around and Justin Burgos fired a 3-pointer that rimmed out. However, the ensuing rebound was knocked out of bounds off West Side with one second left.

The Blue Devils again got Burgos (nine points) a contested look and again the shot just missed as the buzzer sounded.

“They were really tough shots,” Harp said. “You could take that shot 100 times, and I’d be happy with getting that shot, but it’s not an easy shot to hit. They were both good looks.”

Ross led the team with 15 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. He had two 3-pointers in the frame and scored on a drive through the lane with 27.5 seconds left to get the score to 51-49.

West Side’s Andy McNulty was fouled on the next possession and connected on both free throws before Hannigan-Page’s basket, which turned out to be the final points of the game..

“We’re very proud of the way that we came back,” Harp said. “We’re proud of the way we dug, but we didn’t expect anything less.”

Despite missing leading scorer Riyadh Asad, the Terriers got off to a fast start, and led 17-4 after the first quarter.

“I did not know that he wasn’t playing, but we didn’t scramble to try to change things,” Harp said. “They have plenty of talent. They’ve got plenty of guys who are championship-caliber players and had the capability to step up.”

West Side pushed the advantage to 29-14 late in the half and led 33-17 after the opening possession of the third quarter.

But Northampton slowly started pulling back into the game. First when Lipscomb (11 points) was given a technical foul and Ross made a pair of free throws. That sparked a 12-2 run highlighted by six of Connor Roach’s eight points as the Blue Devils trimmed the deficit to 37-29 after three.

“The way that we’ve matured over the course of the season is we aren’t looking at every possession as a knockout punch. That’s when we are on top and when we are down,” Harp said. “We did a nice job of knowing we were in a hole and simply worrying about winning each possession one at a time.”

Ross, who didn’t have a field goal through the first three quarters, took over from there, first with a deep jumper on the left baseline and later with a pair of 3-pointers as Northampton got close, but never all the way back.

Ross “is a big-time player. As long as I know that I’ve got Justin and Jake on the court out there, I feel like I’ve got a shot to win,” Harp said. “You give me a score and my five guys and I feel like we will figure it out. Jake is a big-time player. Justin is a big-time player.”

Paul Bissette led all scorers with 20 points, including seven in the fourth to keep his team afloat.

The loss marked the final game for Blue Devils seniors Ben Christopher, David Konowitch, Danny Mam, Hale, Roach and Burgos.

“It’s a proud group and a humble group. The game kind of mirrored their leadership and their character,” Harp said. “It’s not a group that came in with a whole lot of acclaim. They didn’t come in as freshmen with a lot of acclaim. They didn’t come into this season with people talking about that guy and that guy and that guy.

“We have a lot of guys who have been digging out of a hole their whole careers and I’m real proud of this group. Our success, and I consider this year a success, continues on because of what those guys do for us.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @GazetteHS.

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