Fourth-quarter surge powers Hamilton to upset
Trailing almost all game, the Sussex Hamilton boys basketball team stuck to its gameplan and finally broke through at the end of the third quarter Friday night.
The seventh-seeded Chargers went on a 12-0 run, holding No. 2 seed Homestead scoreless for a 6 minute, 49 second stretch in the third and fourth quarters to emerge with a 57-52 victory in their WIAA Division 1 regional semifinals at Homestead High School.
“Part of us running our offense is getting to the free-throw line,” Hamilton coach Andy Cerroni said of his team shooting 21 of 26 from the strip for the game. “They are a lot more athletic than we are. We screened them pretty well. You have to get to the free-throw line in tournament time and you have to make them when you get there in the tournament, too.”
Defense paved the way for Hamilton (12-11) in forcing nine second-half Highlanders turnovers. With the ball, the Chargers were relentless in driving to the basket and drawing fouls to get to the free-throw line where they went 15 of 17 in the fourth quarter.
That helped build as much as a 53-44 lead for Hamilton, as part of a 17-3 run, which saw it take its first lead of the game since 7-6, less than three minutes into the first quarter.
“We executed very well, running our sets, getting good looks and then defensively we stuck to our gameplan,” Hamilton senior guard Brandon Hagenow said. “We only let them get one shot (each time down the floor).”
Homestead built as big as a six-point lead in the third quarter, near the 4:27 mark, but Hamilton never panicked.
Sophomore guard Brady Ellingson had a game-high 25 points in leading Hamilton, including 10 in the third quarter, which kept Homestead within striking distance.
“I thought Brady really did a good job tonight of not forcing things,” Cerroni said. “He is not one dimensional. He took some guys inside and took some guys off the dribble. That was good to see.”
Homestead (18-5) shot just 25 percent (3 for 12) in the fourth quarter and coach Marquis Hines told his team what he thought happened after the game.
“They just played tougher than we did,” Hines said. “We are not that talented. We have to do all the little things and teams just out hustle us.
“Every time we got a lead we never stretched it out. We never took advantage of their mistakes, and that hurt.”
The Highlanders were led by junior guard James Reilly with 15 points while 6-foot-8 big man Luke Worthington added 11 points.
Seeming down and out, the Highlanders did show some life in the final 40 seconds of the game, cutting a nine-point deficit to just three in 30 seconds after Reilly sank three free throws.
Hagenow was fouled with 5.1 seconds left, made the first of his free throws, missed the second, but outhustled four Homestead players to get the ball and allow the Chargers to salt away the win.
“He is our glue,” Cerroni said of Hagenow, who has been on varsity for three years. “People look at the box score and see he only had seven points tonight, but he makes us go. Teams can’t press us when he’s on the floor. He knows what needs to be done on the floor and does those things that can’t be measured in the stat book.”
In the second year of his tenure at Homestead, Hines sees his program taking steps in the right direction but knows there is still room to improve.
“Everybody has improved in our program, but we have to find that toughness and heart down the stretch that would have helped us tonight,” Hines said. “You can’t have a bad night in the postseason.”
Hamilton will travel to Arrowhead on Saturday to take on the Warhawks in the regional final, a game Hagenow called a “revenge game” after Arrowhead ended the Chargers’ run last season.
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