Class A semis: Banked-in last-second 3 lifts Pope Francis boys past Holyoke in OT

Holyoke’s Shawn Rivera (10) drives to the hoop for a breakaway layup against Northampton earlier this season in Holyoke.

Holyoke’s Shawn Rivera (10) drives to the hoop for a breakaway layup against Northampton earlier this season in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2024 9:36 PM

SPRINGFIELD – The fourth-seeded Holyoke boys basketball team held a one-point lead as No. 1 Pope Francis passed the ball around the three-point line with the seconds ticking down in overtime of the Western Mass. Tournament Class A semifinals.

The ball found it way to Cardinals wing Jaxson Edwards, who surprisingly pulled up from three feet beyond the arc with about 10 seconds still on the clock.

The ball banked off the backboard and in, breaking Holyoke hearts and sending the Cardinals, not the Purple Knights, to the Western Mass. title game.

Holyoke had one last chance to tie or take the lead, but its corner 3-pointer at the buzzer clanged off the backboard and Pope Francis survived for a 59-57 overtime win on Wednesday night.

“It’s one of those things where no matter what I tell them it’s not going to make them feel better,” Holyoke head coach Juan Maldonado said. “When you put a lot of time into something, as our boys do, it means something to them and it’s going to hurt.”

As the Holyoke players trudged out of the visitors locker room 15 minutes after the buzzer, tears were still in their eyes.

“I’m sad,” senior point guard Shawn Rivera said. “We had the game and we just sold it.”

Though Holyoke ended up on the wrong end of the scoreboard, the game itself was everything a fan could want in a playoff game, and more. There were 15 lead changes, six ties and the score was within seven points the entire game. 

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It was also extremely physical – both teams attacked the basket aggressively and three Holyoke players were spotted with ice afterward.

Rivera was holding one of those bags of ice. After a drive to the rack early in the third quarter, he came down hard on his ankle and grimaced with pain. It still hurts badly, he said, but there was no chance of him coming out of the game.

“I wrapped it,” Rivera said. “Then I said if I could run and jump up and down then I could go back and play.”

After Rivera’s departure, the Purple Knights went on a run to take a lead they wouldn’t give up until overtime. Holyoke held a slight lead throughout the second half, which grew to as much as seven after Rivera returned at the start of the fourth quarter and hit back-to-back 3-pointers.

But Pope Francis gradually came back, thanks in large part to a 3-pointer from Ryan Vedovelli that cut the lead to one with 28 seconds left. Holyoke missed a free throw after an intentional foul and then turned the ball over on its final possession of regulation with a chance to take the lead.

Jamil Rodriguez, who scored a game-high 23 and feasted down low on both the offensive and defensive glass all night, knocked down a pair from the stripe to give Holyoke a 57-56 lead with less than 30 seconds left in OT.

But despite the Purple Knights’ best efforts, Edwards’ prayer banked in off the glass to put Pope on top for good. Before that shot, Edwards had only two points. He couldn’t even believe he made it.

Holyoke’s season isn’t done yet. First, they’ve got to get healthy, and then they’ll prepare for a slate of games in the state tournament. Though Rivera was devastated by the loss, his message to the team was that they still have more games to play.

“It was a great season,” Rivera said. “I like the boys we play with, it’s just a family and that’s all I care about at the end of the day to be honest. Win or lose, they’re still my boys and we’re going to play our hearts out.”

Pope Francis will play either No. 2 Central or No. 6 Agawam in Saturday’s Class A title game.