’Jacks fall in heartbreaker

POTSDAM – One of Tupper Lake’s best boys basketball seasons in recent memory ended in heartbreak Tuesday night in the Class C regional semifinals at SUNY Potsdam.

The Section X champion Lumberjacks lost 60-57 to Section VII champion Seton Catholic when Knight guard Kaden Baugh hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer after dribbling the ball up the court. The deep shot banked off the backboard, bounced off the rim and somehow, improbably fell through the net. When it did, the Knights’ fans stormed the court, cascading down from the stands to celebrate with their players.

On the other end, Tupper Lake’s players jumped off the bench and grabbed their heads, with elbows out, in a gesture of disbelief. Their hard-fought comeback from a double-digit deficit had been erased in a moment.

“It’s just tough to see a shot like that go up and then bounce, rattle and fall in,” Lumberjacks coach Steve Skiff said. “It’s kind of like something you see on ESPN in the top 10 plays.”

The Knights (17-3) now move on to play Section II’s Hoosic Valley in the regional final Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.

The miracle shot came after Tupper Lake had come all the way back from a 14-point second-half deficit to tie the game on senior center Mitch Keniston’s layup with 1.9 seconds left in the game.

Keniston has been one of the best players in Section X for the past two seasons, one of the most reliable in the clutch and one of the hardest working players around. All of that showed on the last offensive series for Tupper Lake.

“He just played so hard,” Skiff said. “That last basket when he tied the game says it all. He went up, missed, got the rebound. There were three guys on him and he went up so strong and put it in. He’s a winner.”

Keniston finished the game with 22 points. He was was followed by Anson Gagnier, who overcame first-half foul trouble to score 14, and Morgan Stevens, who had 12.

Tupper Lake showed persistence bouncing back from the deficit. Midway through the third quarter, Seton Catholic took a 36-22 lead on a layup by Chris Kustos, who finished the night with 16 points.

It appeared the game could turn into a blowout at that point, as Seton Catholic was heating up on offense and Tupper Lake was struggling. Baugh, in particular, was tough for the Lumberjacks to stop. He finished with 26 points, picking up some of the offensive slack due to the absence of Adam Tedford, the Knights’ leading scorer who missed the game due to illness.

But the Lumberjacks refused to fade in this game. Out of nowhere, Keniston, the biggest player on the court who rarely strays from the paint, nailed a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter. That gave Tupper Lake some life and allowed them to stay in the game, although they didn’t gain much ground on the scoreboard for the next few minutes.

Then Keniston hit a layup and drew the fourth foul on Keagen Briggs, the Knights’ big man who was covering him. That send Briggs to the bench and made the score 41-32.

After that, Tupper Lake put on its full-court press and Gagnier picked up a steal and dished the ball to fellow guard Cody LaPierre, who nailed a short jumper. That brought the Lumberjacks within seven.

After the Knights tacked on another two points, Lumberjack junior forward Roger Delair drew a foul on a shot after rebounding his own miss. With 3.6 seconds left in the third quarter, Delair nailed two foul shots, making the score 43-36 and giving Tupper Lake hope for the final period.

Gagnier continued the Lumberjacks momentum by hitting a 3-pointer early in fourth quarter, bringing the Lumberjacks within four. At that point, the Tupper Lake crowd was getting loud.

For the next few minutes, the two teams traded baskets. During this stretch, Stevens came up huge, scoring eight-straight points for his team.

“We had him in a little different position offensively too, and he did just what we needed at that point,” Skiff said. “Those were big buckets for us, very big buckets for us.”

With under three minutes left, the Knights got the lead back up to seven points when Cody Quantock hit a jumper to make the score 57-50.

It once again appeared the game might get out of reach for the Lumberjacks, but Gagnier promptly knocked down a 3-pointer with just over two minutes left to bring his team within four. Gagnier then picked up a steal off the press but then turned the ball over.

With 59.5 seconds left and the Knights leading 57-53, Stevens unintentionally leveled Seton Catholic’s Nic Favreau with a football-like tackle while trying to intercept a pass.

Favreau was awarded two foul shots, but missed them both. The Knights hurt themselves at the free-throw line all night, hitting only 3 of 15 in the game.

After Favreau missed his shots, the Lumberjacks were unable to score. On the Knights’ next possession, the Lumberjacks fouled Briggs, who also missed two free throws.

This time the Lumberjacks followed with two foul shots by Delair with 26.2 seconds in the game to make the score 57-55.

Tupper Lake’s Keniston and Gagnier then trapped Baugh in the corner with 24.2 seconds left. With time ticking away, Keniston fouled him.

Baugh also missed two free throws. After Tupper Lake got the rebound on the second shot, they set up on offense, passing around the perimeter. Skiff yelled from the sideline for a play for Keniston, who was battling for position near the basket. The ball went into the big center’s hands in the post. After missing a short jumper, Keniston scrambled desperately for the rebound, outhustling several Knight’s defenders. He then lifted up under the basket for a game-tying layup with 1.9 seconds remaining in the game.

Unbelievably, the Lumberjacks had come all the way back. It looked like this one was headed to overtime.

Timeout was called. Then the Knights inbounded to Baugh, who had hit big shots all night. He dribbled past a couple of Lumberjack defenders and launched a deep 3-pointer. The ball smacked the backboard, clanked the rim and fell through the net. There would be no overtime.

“It feels great; I can’t even describe it,” Baugh said. “At the end of the game I knew that Adam Tedford, he’s usually getting that shot at the end of the game. He was sick and I knew I had to hit that for our team.”

For the Lumberjacks, the shot was heartbreaking. But looking at the big picture, they had a great season, finishing 14-8. It was just a tough way to end it.

“It was a tough way to lose a game for them, so they were obviously all disappointed and they’re heartbroken, especially to fight back like that all the way and then to lose on a shot like that,” Skiff said. “As far as the season, I’m sure they, myself included, when we have time to calm down a little bit, sit back and reflect we’ll realize what a great season it was. Like I told them in there, they hung a banner in the school gym. It’ll always be theirs. They were the Class C champs. I’m very proud of them.”