Garaway Boys Basketball

Pirates nearly pull off the upset but fall in heartbreaking fashion to Fairland in regional semi

Joel Honigford and the Pirates came within seconds o pulling off a major upset

The first half of Garaway’s Div. III regional semifinal contest against Proctorville Fairland Wednesday, March 15 at the Convocation Center at Ohio University in Athens was crucial to help soothe the fear of facing a team the Pirates were pounded by earlier this season.

The next 14 minutes of the second half was a battle of desire and will power.

The final two minutes were an agonizing 151 seconds that saw the Pirates season come to an end despite a brilliant effort and a tremendous game plan by head coach Terry Rowe.

However, at the end of the day, not the monumental effort, nor the nearly perfectly executed game plan nor the congratulations of the grateful Garaway fans who appreciated the monster effort could wash away the pain of the 57-52 loss that saw Garaway cough-up a six point lead late in a game that saw them have a game-tying 3-pointer go half way down before rimming out.

“We are incredibly proud of what our kids did tonight,” Rowe said following the defeat. “Our kids gave so much tonight and over the course of this year. My heart is breaking that we can’t come back and play another game at the Convo.”

Earlier this season in December, Fairland had destroyed Garaway 80-52, and with that in mind, Rowe designed a game plan that would slow down the athletic Dragons who like to get up and down the floor quickly.

Considering that a poor start would probably destroy the psyche of the pirates, they needed a huge early effort and a big first half to instill the idea that they could play with the Dragons.

They got it, although it looked iffy early on.

After Ty Hamsher’s two free throws got Garaway up 2-0, Fairland went on an 8-0 run and caused a pair of Garaway turnovers, the run including a monster jam by Gunner Short.

But Joel Honigford made a key play and scored on a put-back and fellow senior Philip Gebhardt drained a three to trim the deficit to 8-7.

Fairland quietly went back up by five but Honigford’s score inside to end the quarter left Garaway trailing 14-11.

Again down by five mid-way through the second quarter, Pirates senior Ben Mason, playing basically on one leg with a knee injury, scored on a put-back and Hamsher scored inside to get the Pirates to within 22-21. Ty Staten hit a jumper but Hamsher answered with a drive, and moments later, Mason scored on another put-back to give Garaway a 25-24 lead. A Staten three-ball would eventually give the Dragons a 29-27 half-time lead, but art one of what Rowe wanted to accomplish was complete. The Pirates realized they could hang with the 24-1 Dragons.

In the third quarter, Malik Shaffer gave the pirates the lead at 44-41 with a triple, and at this point, for a team that had defeated its opponent by 28 earlier this year, Fairland looked anything but confident.

As the fourth quarter continued, Garaway pounced. Trevor Donaldson found Ethan Rothacher with a stunning pass for a score and Hamsher hit a free throw, and the Pirates led 49-43 with 2:33 to play.

But with 2:21, Luke Thomas stroked what was perhaps the biggest shot of the game, 3-pointer from the left corner, to trim the Pirates lead in half. Short then made a steal and scored, cutting Garaway’s lead to one, and after Donaldson missed the front end of a one-and-one, Thomas hit a runner to put Fairland up 50-49.

Hamsher, who has been Garaway’s go-to guy all year, came through with a dazzling and-one to put Garaway back up 52-50 with 1:36 to play.

Thomas popped in two free throws to knot the score, and Garaway had the option to hold the ball for a last shot to win it, or attack. Hamsher chose the latter option, and with 38 seconds drove, got a great look, but his shot bounced in and out.

Then came the biggest decision of the season for Garaway. With the game tied and knowing Fairland would hold the ball for the last shot with 28 seconds left, Rowe had his team purposely foul, sending Staten to the line for a one-and-one.

The strategy is one used by former North Carolina coach Jim Valvano, who figured it was better to force an opponent to make a free throw and have the final shot and the fate of the game in your own hands.

“It was a situation where you put them on the line and then get the ball back to see what happens,” Rowe said. “They are such a great team offensively, we didn’t want to give them the chance to win it. We felt he had to make free throws, but I liked out chances more with the ball and the fate of the game in our hands.”

Rowe said against this type of a talented team with such great offensive weapons, they knew they would have to take some gambles. This was the biggest one of all.

Staten made both free throws, but now the Pirates had possession and could go for the tie or the win.

But horror struck when the Pirates misread a cut and fired a pass out of bounds, and they had to foul, opting to foul Isaiah Howell, who split the pair for a three-point lead.

Garaway still had life, and a three would send it to overtime.

With just under 10 seconds, Garaway inbounded the ball under its own bucket, and Shaffer pump faked to get two Dragons to bite, dribbled left and uncorked a great shot for the tie. The ball went half-way down, spun out, and the Pirates watched their chances of a trip to the regional final spin out with it.

“We had a great look at that three,” Rowe said. “It just didn’t drop.”

As for the way the game transpired, and the decision to put the Dragons on the line, Rowe said it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“That last 33 seconds and how that all played out, that will haunt me for a while,” Rowe said. “But I can not say enough about this team, and how we fought to get that six point lead. We just couldn’t hold on to it.”

Garaway bows out at 19-7, and Rowe said they have won many close games this season, and had many things go their way. This time, that was not the case.

While giving a team that bat them by 28 earlier a huge scare may some day be a comfort, it did little to quell the agony of defeat now.

“It doesn’t feel very good right now,” Rowe said. “We felt we could do some things differently to keep the game close,” Rowe said. “But the worry was, could we keep the game close on both ends of the floor. Ben was playing on one leg and Trevor had a sprained ankle, and to see those guys pour themselves into not just this game but into the whole year was something special. To get beat by 28 by this team in December, and to now be in a basketball game with this team is something special.”

Hamsher ended his incredible career with a game-high 24 points, while Honigford scored eight, Gebhardt and Donaldson both added six and Mason chipped in with eight.

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