Buzzer-beater had look of a game-winner

  • Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman drives to the hoop against Drury’s Conor Clark (23) Monday night at UMass/Amherst’s Curry Hicks Cage during WMass Division IV boys’ basketball semifinal action. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer head coach Scott Thayer gives instruction from the sideline during his Panthers’ WMass Division IV boys’ basketball semifinal win over Drury Monday night at the Curry Hicks Cage at UMass/Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Brendan Emond (24) and Mike Menard (25) go up for a rebound against Drury’s Conor Clark (23) Monday night during WMass Division IV boys’ basketball action at UMass/Amherst’s Curry Hicks Cage. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer celebrates its WMass Division IV semifinal win over Drury Monday night UMass/Amherst's Curry Hicks Cage. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Monday, March 05, 2018

AMHERST — Mike Menard sprinted back up the floor, the Curry Hicks Cage crowd erupting as the clock showed zeroes on the scoreboard above his head.

Brendan Emond wasn’t far behind, one arm raised in the air, soon joining the pile that quickly formed around junior Garrett Cote.

Thanks to Cote’s heroics Monday night, the two seniors have at least one more game in Pioneer Valley Regional School uniforms.

Both players had unique perspectives of Cote’s game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in the WMass Division IV Boys’ Basketball Tournament semifinal against Drury High School.

Trailing 68-66 with 5.3 seconds remaining, Cote went the length of the floor, pump-faked and drained a triple from the top of the key that sent the Panthers through to their first WMass final since 2000 with a 69-68 victory.

How’d it look from down on the court?

“It looked really good,” said Menard (9 points) of Cote’s shot in the air. “It was a high-flyer of a shot. Garrett had to pump fake because the kid jumped, but I thought it was in from where I was standing. I was hoping, anyway.”

Emond initially snuck open as the play began to develop. After setting a screen for Menard, who sprinted to the corner for a shot if needed, Emond slipped his defender and put his arms in the air, calling for a pass right around the 3-point line.

When Cote’s shot went up, the team’s big man crashed the boards in case of a rebound. Instead, he had a bird-eye view of one of the most dramatic shots in Pioneer program history.

“I looked up when he let go of the ball,” began Emond. “As soon as it left his hands I thought, ‘Holy crap, it’s going in.’”

Chaos followed.

The Panthers chased after and eventually consumed Cote, who took off for the far end of the floor after hitting the game-winner and could only untuck his black lucky No. 13 jersey before being mobbed. Pioneer head coach Scott Thayer raised his left arm in the air and pumped his fist following the bucket. The euphoric black-and-gold faithful from Northfield jumped for joy in the stands. The student section spilled out onto the parquet floor.

“It’s crazy. I don’t even know,” said Emond, trying to find the words to sum up the final seconds. “We came into this game thinking we were underdogs and had nothing to lose. We never gave up.”

Party like it’s 2000

Pioneer’s last trip to the Cage came in 2008, when the Panthers lost to eventual WMass Division III champion Frontier Regional School, 88-56.

Monday’s game was a bit more fun for the program.

The win vaulted the Panthers into their first WMass final since 2000, when they defeated Granby, 64-61, to pick up their most recent sectional title. Pioneer will meet top-seeded and three-time defending WMass champion Hopkins Academy (20-2) in the championship game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. back at the Cage.

“We haven’t won here in 10 years so it’s nice to get this win and now we get to play (Hopkins Academy) and see what we can do,” Menard explained.

High-flying Drury

Things were looking good for a Hopkins-Drury collision course in the finals late in the season. The Blue Devils entered Monday’s game 10-1 in their last 11 contests, including a 92-65 win over Duggan Academy in the quarterfinals.

Drury’s offense has been fun to watch this season. The Devils scored 80 or more points on six different occasions, and were on that pace at halftime when they led Pioneer, 40-28.

The Devils picked up a 74-44 win over Pioneer way back on Dec. 13 in Northfield, but the Panthers were without the services of Emond, Cote and Jordan Loughman, as all three starters missed that game due to early-season injuries.

“We’re obviously a different team than that first time we played them,” Emond offered.

It was Drury’s third trip to the Cage in the last four years, though the Berkshire County school lost in the semifinals fell to 0-3 in the semifinals during that span with Monday’s defeat.

NOTES: Drury’s Reece Racette hit a free throw with 4:30 left in the third quarter to record his 1,000th career point. Racette, who had 11 points in the first quarter to get the Devils off and running, finished with 22 points in the loss. … Drury’s ‘Big 3’ of Racette, Chad Lawrence and Scott McGuire Jr. combined for 62 of their team’s 68 points. … Drury was tagged with a costly technical foul in the third quarter. The Devils briefly played with six men on the floor with 4:22 left in the third, and Cote sank two technical free throws to cut the Pioneer deficit at the time to 43-40. Two points that ultimately made a difference. … Pioneer was in the bonus with 1:49 left in the third quarter after Drury picked up fouls in bunches after halftime. The Panthers scored seven points from the free throw line late in the third and into the fourth quarter. Cote had five of the seven from the charity stripe.