Eastern York stuns Bulldogs at buzzer
For a brief moment, it looked like Dominic Particelli's last-second layup was going to fall the wrong way.
As the ball hung on the rim, for what seemed like an eternity, both Eastern York and West York waited for their fates to be sealed. But, when the ball finally did drop through the net as the final buzzer sounded, it was the Golden Knights who wound up celebrating a 58-57 York-Adams League Division II road victory, while the Bulldogs were left in disbelief.
"I was just hoping that it would fall right in," Particelli said about his game-winner. "It takes a lot (of focus). There's so much pressure on you, too. You look up at the clock and there's three seconds left and the ball gets passed to you and you just gotta make it. There's so much pressure on you."
Had it not been for Particelli's final-second heroics, then Nick Sarver's layup at the other end of the floor would've made him the hero. West York forced a turnover with just more than 10 seconds to play, leading to a 3-on-1 fastbreak the other way, which resulted in Sarver's go-ahead layup with 8.2 seconds left, putting the Bulldogs up, 57-56.
However, everything about the last play and final seconds came together almost perfectly for Eastern (7-2 York-Adams Division II, 10-3 overall), beginning with the in-bounds pass. Jarad Woods took the ball out, fully aware that the clock was still ticking, and got it into the nearest teammate. With about five seconds left, the ball wound up in the hands of Jared Achterberg, who, for a split second lost possession, but regathered the ball enough to push it ahead to a wide-open Particelli who quickly heaved the ball up and in as time expired.
"They've been through it," Golden Knights head coach Jon Reichard said about his team's history of needing last-second wins. "They didn't stand and watch or panic, which was good."
After Eastern opened a 14-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs (4-4 Division II, 6-6 overall) responded, eventually tying the game by halftime, 19-19, thanks to a Josh Bailey buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The Golden Knights' 10-point cushion in the opening frame was the largest of the night, with both teams jostling for position throughout the second half.
With 3:46 to play in the third quarter, West York finally played from in front, courtesy of another Bailey 3-pointer, putting it up 28-27. That lead expanded to three points on the next possession, but wouldn't hold through the end of the quarter, as the Golden Knights took a 35-34 advantage into the final quarter.
The game was played at a breakneck pace, suiting the Bulldogs more than Eastern. On numerous occasions, Reichard could be heard telling his team to slow down the tempo. Despite Reichard's pleas for a slower tempo, his players continued to go full-tilt and it seemed to work. Eastern never trailed by more than three in the tough environment and maintained control of the game.
"I think we play better when we speed the game up," Broguen Nicholas said. "We, for a long stretch of time, were making them make mistakes when we were playing fast and I think playing fast is playing to our strength somewhat."
Nicholas led all scorers in the game with 20 points, 17 of which came in the first three quarters. Achterberg was the only other Golden Knight to finish in double digits, going for 14, with 12 of those coming in the second half. Particelli only had six points, but came up with the two biggest of the game.
West York was led by Darian McCauley, who had a team-high 17 points, followed by Bailey's 13 points and Kenton Meckley's 12.
The game was a battle between the second- and third-place teams in the Division II standings, both knowing how crucial a win would be in maintaining some closeness to first-place Northeastern. For the most part, the officials treated the game as such, letting the two teams battle for loose balls and to score inside. Reichard described the game as "football without pads," a pretty vivid picture of just how physical the game got at various points.
At times the game was sloppy, with few buckets being made, while turnovers were plentiful. By halftime, the teams combined for just 15 made field goals, compared to 21 combined turnovers.
Regardless of how it was won, Reichard knew the importance of the victory.
"We've been on the other end of those, getting beat at the buzzer," he said. "We needed a break and we finally got one tonight. It was a good win. When you come in here, this is a tough place to play in this little bandbox. They press, their fans are into it, it's a great environment, it gets really, really physical and you gotta get a 'W' when you're on the road. You defend home court and you gotta win or steal one on the road, and we got one tonight."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org