By Mark Carpenter
With a trip to the Division IV sectional finals on the line last Tuesday evening at Valley High School, it was two county teams matching up, one to advance and one to be eliminated from further postseason play. Local fans traveled east to see the North Adams Green Devils battle the Manchester Greyhounds with the opportunity to move ahead in the tourney. Both teams had disappointing regular seasons, so tournament play meant an opportunity to salvage some pride and most importantly, to keep on playing.
This contest could easily be described as a “tale of two halves” as the first half was dominated by the Greyhounds over an ice cold North Adams squad, but the momentum swung the other way in the final two quarters as the Green Devils rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat Manchester by a final count of 44-35.
“We were familiar with them, they were familiar with us,” said North Adams head coach Nathan Copas. “We just had to come out and play.”
“We tried to rotate a lot of people in and out tonight and all of our kids filled their roles.”
To say that the Green Devils were ice cold in the first quarter was an understatement as they didn’t score their first points until nearly five minutes in. Luckily, the North Adams defense played well enough to keep it close though it was Manchester jumping out quick behind five points from freshman Colton Thornburg, before Hank Sparks broke the North Adams ice to make it 5-2.
The Hounds answered that bucket in a big way, getting back to back threes from Austin Smith and Thornburg to open up a 10-2 advantage. The three-point barrage continued for Manchester when Phillip Thomas drained one off the wing in the final minute and after the first eight minutes of play, it was all Manchester as the Greyhounds led 13-6.
It looked like the Hounds had suffered a major blow nine seconds into the second quarter when Smith picked up his second foul and was forced to the bench for the remainder of the first half, but his team didn’t skip a beat, reeling off six straight to open the stanza on baskets by Jordan Freeman, Sean Frost, and Thomas again. That put North Adams in a 19-6 hole as the Green Devils still could not get the offense untracked.
The first chinks in the Manchester armor began to show when North Adams’ Braxton McFarland hit a “3” at the 2:40 mark and then after a Tyler Brummett basket for the Hounds, the Devils finished the half with a Cole Meade free throw and a driving layup by Mikey Sheeley in the final seconds. When the halftime break arrived, the Devils had begun to creep back into the game, trailing now 21-12.
Just as their opponent had done in the first period, the third period turned into a long distance affair for the Devils as they hit a trio of three-point shots to turn the game into a close one. Before that though, North Adams opened the third frame with a bucket by Sheeley on their first possession and a following put back by Sparks to pull back within five at 21-16. Freeman hit a jumper for the Hounds but then it was bombs away for North Adams, with Sheeley getting two from beyond the arc and Devin Gardner firing in another and in the blink of an eye, the Devils had tied the game at 25 apiece.
A free throw by Blake Bradley gave the Devils their first lead of the game at the 2:30 mark but the offensive woes struck again and North Adams did not score the rest of the quarter. Manchester didn’t fare much better, getting a Thornburg basket with 1:55 left and after three quarters, it was still the Hounds on top, but barely, 27-26.
That lead evaporated quicker than you can even say “Greyhound” when the fourth quarter opened. North Adams turned their fortunes around and rattled off the first 11 points of the period to turn a deficit into a double digit lead. It was again the three-point attack as Gardner and Bradley each struck from behind the line and a pair of Gardner free throws with 3:23 to play gave his team a 37-27 lead.
Brummett temporarily plugged the dam, getting the first Manchester basket of the final quarter with 3:10 to play but by that point, it was obvious that all of the momentum in this contest belonged to the green and gold. A steal and lay in by Gardner pushed the lead back to 10 and then the Devils owned the free throw line, getting two from Sparks and two from Gardner as the desperate Greyhounds were forced to foul.
A Bradley free throw with 33 seconds to play made it 44-32 and rendered a Smith three-pointer for the Hounds in the final seconds rather meaningless as it was the Green Devils who could celebrate a come-from-behind win and a trip to the sectional finals, defeating the Greyhounds 44-35.
In the win, the Green Devils placed two players in double figures, both of whom played a major role in providing the spark to ignite the comeback. Devin Gardner led the way with 15 points, including hitting 5 of 6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Mikey Sheeley added 10 points and it was his two threes in the third quarter that sliced the Manchester lead very rapidly. Hank Sparks contributed 8 points to the win with Blake Bradley adding 5.
For Manchester, no one reached double figures in a balanced attack that saw Colton Thornburg lead the way with 9 points followed by Phillip Thomas and Austin Smith with 8 apiece. Jordan Freeman and Tyler Brummett each scored 4.
“I thought we came out with a lot of energy and our execution in the first half, especially on defense, was great,” said Manchester head coach Aaron Lockhart. “We haven’t had a good third quarter in several games and tonight wasn’t any different. I felt like we played not to lose in the second half, rather than just continuing to play.”
“North Adams did a great job of attacking us on the offensive end and then forcing us into turnovers on the other end. We weren’t able to get a few key stops and scores to swing the momentum back in our favor. We have to key on mental and physical strength in the off-season.”
With the win, the Green Devils, now 6-15, earned a trip to last night’s sectional final, where again they saw familiar faces on the opposite bench, facing off with the Peebles Indians. One of those teams earned a sectional championship and the coveted trip to the Ohio University Convocation Center on March 4 to compete in the district tournament. (Look for a report on the Peebles-North Adams game in a future issue of The People’s Defender.)
“Now we get another team that is very familiar with us,” said Coach Copas. “We have some time to prepare and we need some good practice time. We want a sectional championship as much as they do.”
Mark Carpenter can be reached at 937-544-2391 or on Twitter @adamscosports.
13 8 6 8 —35
6 6 14 18 —44
Manchester (35): Freeman 2 0-0 4, Brummett 2 0-0 4, Thornburg 4 0-0 9, Frost 1 0-2 2, Thomas 3 1-2 8,
Smith 3 0-1 8, Pribble 0 0-2 0, Team 15 1-7 35.
N. Adams (44): Bradley 1 2-5 5, McFarland 1 0-0 3, Anderson 1 0-0 2, Sheeley 4 0-0 10, Sparks 3 2-2 8,
Gardner 4 5-6 15, C. Meade 0 1-3 1, Team 14 10-16 44.
Three-Point Goals: Manchester-Thornburg 1, Thomas 1, Smith 2
N. Adams- Bradley 1, McFarland 1, Sheeley 2, Gardner 2