AMHERST — In late-game situations, the ability to properly execute plays can win or lose the game. Leading by two points with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Pittsfield ran an inbounds play to perfection to seal the game.
Passing in from the right sideline near his bench, Louis Higuera hit a streaking Anthony Reinhold — freed by a screen from Simon Nassif — for a layup, putting the Generals up four. The momentum created from that play and strong free throw shooting late gave fifth-seeded Pittsfield a 50-49 win over top-seeded Shepherd Hill in the Western Massachusetts Division II semifinals on Thursday at the Curry Hicks Cage. The Generals advance to face No. 2 seed Tantasqua on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
"We practiced that about three days ago," Higuera said. "We just put it in randomly. We haven't been running that the whole year. ... We've put in a lot of new stuff toward the end of the year and it's been working out good."
"I just tried to keep my composure," added Reinhold. "I knew the ball was coming to me because they were playing tight man [defense]. I just waited for the screen, rolled to the hoop and he found me."
The play is actually designed for an alley-oop finish from the athletic Reinhold, but the layup is still worth two points.
The game featured 14 lead changes, making every possession critical to the final outcome.
Connor McDonough's 3-pointer early in the fourth tied the game at 37. Shepherd Hill's go-to player Michael Rapoza scored seven straight for the Rams, putting them up three after three straight points from Pittsfield's Josh Moore. With a little less than two minutes remaining, Reinhold found Kolbe Muzzy for a layup and McDonough's fifth trey of the game put Pittsfield up two, setting the stage for Reinhold's key basket.
McDonough struggled to find his range in the first half, but he made four treys in the second half, It's his second consecutive game with five 3-pointers. He led Pittsfield with 17 points. Reinhold had 11 points, three assists and two rebounds.
"It brings a lot of intensity," McDonough said of his shooting. "It helps the team out. ... After the first [make] the confidence builds up. After the two airballs I was really down. After I made the first one I said 'I can do this. I did it against Taconic and I can do it again.'"
McDonough's strong second half highlighted an improvement from deep. After shooting 1 of 6 from 3-point range, the Generals made 3 of 4 to start the second half. They finished 5 of 17. He said moving in from the NBA 3-point line of The Cage to the high school line helped him find his shooting stroke.
"At times [McDonough] got his open looks and our defense sagged a little too far," Shepherd Hill coach Duane Corriveau said. "That's a credit to their team. ... As defenders they felt they had to go out a little further to help out, obviously that leaves open the shooter and he's a good ball players.
Defensively, Josh Moore and the Pittsfield defense did a good job on the Rams' big man. Rapoza scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, but he could not get the key basket late. He added 15 rebounds as well. The 6-foot-5 senior was medically cleared just days before the game, after suffering a back injury during the regular season.
Rapoza didn't start the game and the offense struggled without him. Pittsfield started the game on a 10-4 run before Sebastian Gruzecki answered with a 3-pointer. Pittsfield led by four after one, but the Rams started the second with a 7-0 run of their own. Simon Nassif's free throws with 5:11 left in the half ended the run. After a John Packard basket off a steal, Edwin Rodriguez found Higuera for a layup. Rodriguez found McDonough for three on the next possession, taking a 19-17 lead. Shepherd Hill led by two at the half.
Up next for Pittsfield is a Tantasqua team led by forward John Howland. Pittsfield coach Steve Ray said his team's embraced the notion of "playing like there's no tomorrow." With a Western Mass title at stake, Saturday is the perfect time to leave it all on the line.
Reinhold 4-2-11, McDonough 5-2-17, Moore 2-1-5, Higuera 4-1-9, Muzzy 2-2-6, Te. Boire 0-0-0, Rodriguez 0-0-0, Nassif 0-2-2, Ty. Boire 0-0-0. Totals: 17-10-50
SHEPHERD HILL (49)
Watkins 1-0-3, Packard 5-0-12, Gruzecki 2-0-5, Cohen 2-0-5, O'Regan 3-4-10, Rapoza 5-4-14. Totals: 18-8-49
3-point goals — P 6 (McDonough 5, Reinhold). SH 4 (Packard 2, Gruzecki, Cohen).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252