In the midst of a rollercoaster season, it's quite fitting that the Drury boys basketball team earned a Western Massachusetts tournament berth in thrilling fashion against rival Hoosac Valley on Tuesday.
The Blue Devils let a nine-point fourth quarter lead slip away, but the Hurricanes' last-second tying heave fell short, giving them a 51-48 win.
Drury started the season on a seven-game winning streak, only to lose its next eight games. The team suffered from inconsistent play and player suspensions, but Tuesday's game marked its third win in a row.
"It takes a lot of pressure off us going into Friday's game," Drury coach Jack Racette said on clinching a postseason berth. "We talk about [staying together] every day in practice and we're young. We start a freshman, a sophomore and three juniors. This is who we are and nothing is changing. Whether it's an injury or discipline we've always got to be ready to play."
Drury junior Hayden Bird showed he was ready to shoulder the load offensively from the opening tip. He scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the first half and he always seemed to make a the crucial basket when Drury was in a jam. His heads up play to collect his own miss and fire a quick shot at the buzzer gave the Blue Devils a 45-36 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Hoosac's Matt Koperniak started the fourth with a layup, but Bryce Webb answered with a layup of his own. Bird sank two free throws, giving the Blue Devils an 11-point lead early in the quarter.
Hoosac responded however, as post player Jameson Coughlan re-entered the game after dealing with foul trouble throughout, giving the 'Canes a spark. Koperniak hit a 3-pointer, followed by a Coughlan layup and a wide open Avery Hall layup off a forced turnover. Coughlan's free throws with two minutes left cut the deficit to 49-47. He missed the tying free throws with 4.6 seconds remaining, and Bird sank two foul shots to ice the game.
Coughlan's foul trouble caused him to sit the majority of the second quarter. Drury built a 12-point lead at halftime, breaking Hoosac's pressure and attacking the basket with Coughlan in the game, or using Bird's size in the half-court to create mid-range jump shot opportunities with him out of the game. Koperniak led Hoosac with 14 points. Coughlan had 11 points. Drury had no other players in double figures, but Christian Montoya's back-to-back 3-pointers late in the second half helped Drury build its halftime lead.
After making seven treys in their first meeting against Drury, Hoosac managed just one in the loss.
"We knew we had our hands full. ... We had seven days off [since the last game] and we were on a mission," Reece Racette said. "Every day in practice we say stay the course. We have five guys on the court working hard at all times.
"[Bird] is the leader of our team. He's not just a scorer, but he's stepping it up on defense. We build off our defense. We held them to 48 points, so there was no reason why we couldn't win."
Hall 2-0-4, Rousseau 0-2-2, Carlow 0-1-1, Koperniak 6-1-14, McGrath 2-2-6, Sistrunk 3-0-6, Barrow 1-2-4, Coughlan 3-5-11. Totals: 17-13-48.
Montoya 3-0-8, Bird 10-7-28, Racette 3-0-7, Meehan 1-0-3, Stewart 0-0-0, Clark 1-0-2 Lawrence 0-0-0, Webb 1-1-3. Totals: 19-8-51
3-point goals — HV 1 (Koperniak). D 5 (Montoya 2, Bird, Meehan, Racette).