Trailing 30-22 near the end of the third quarter, with his Pirates’ boys basketball team clinging to its hopes of surviving the challenge Union Local was putting forth and advancing to the district finals, Garaway head coach Terry Rowe’s crew never panicked.
Instead of tightening up in its Div. III district semifinal game with Union Local, the Pirates responded like champions, went on an 18-0 run and eventually pulled out a 44-38 win that was earned through a team simply relying on a trait it has exhibited all season.
“I thought our character played a key role,” Rowe said of the impressive come-from-behind win. “Our kids never panicked. They remained composed and kept encouraging each other even when we were down, and I think that helped us fight through it.”
Garaway had helped paint itself into by shooting the ball very poorly though most of the first three quarters. After trailing 9-8 at the end of one, and being tied at 18 at the half, the Jets turned on the jets and crept out to the eight point advantage.
However, Ben Mason knocked down a huge shot to end the third period to get the Pirate within six, then he started the fourth with a bucket. When Ty Hamsher stepped into a 3-pointer moments later, Garaway was within one in a heartbeat.
More importantly, the offensive burst gave way to a renewed effort on defense, and with Union local not substituting all game, the Jets were about to be grounded. With Trevor Donaldson in foul trouble, Rowe credited Corey Troyer for stepping in and providing valuable minutes off the bench, among others who came in to keep things close and give starters rest.
“I think our offense led to a great defensive effort, and we definitely found another gear on defense once we got going,” Rowe said. “And they had not subbed in all game long, and I think that factored into the end game. I thought they looked like they got a little fatigued.”
Malik Shaffer stepped up and hit a huge shot, and Joel Honigford, who had been fairly quiet all game, began to be a factor inside.
Garaway (18-6) forged a 34-30 lead, then Honigford scored inside to push the advantage to 36-30. Another defensive gem and Hamsher sliced through the Jets’ defense for a score to make it 38-30, then he stole the ball as Union Local brought it up the floor with 1:44 left to play.
For eight minutes between the third and fourth period, the Pirates had not allowed the Jets to score a single point, and looked to be in total control.
Shaffer made another steal on defense, and Trevor Donaldson found Honigford open on the block and the big man scored his sixth point of the quarter to make it 40-30.
That was when Ty Kildow made things interesting. Kildow stopped the 18-0 run with 1:03 to play, and that would mark a personal eight-point run for him that included a couple of 3-pointers from deep that would see Union Local creep back to within 42-38.
But with the game on the line, Mason stepped to the free throw line with a one-and-one and drained both attempts with 20 seconds to play. A couple of Jets heaves late didn’t find the mark and the Pirates had survived.
For the Pirates, the close game was nothing new, something that Rowe said definitely helped them deal with the pressure they faced.
“Other than about three games this year, we haven’t had many double digit leads,” Rowe said. ‘Playing in those close games all year long has definitely helped us prepare for the kind of pressure we were under.”
Playing in the Inter-Valley Conference has also helped them build some steely character. Currently five IVC teams are playing for district championships, and Tusky Valley, a team that will be in the league next season, also played Garaway this year.
In the nine games Garaway played against Hiland, Strasburg, Sandy Valley, Malvern and Tusky Valley, all of whom will be playing for district titles, Garaway went 8-1, and every single one of those games was tight.
The Pirates now face Sandy Valley in a Div. III district final, while Hiland faces Tusky Valley in another Div. III district final. Meanwhile in Div. IV, Strasburg faces Malvern.
“It has helped us learn to handle pressure, that’s for sure,” Rowe said of seeing such good quality in league play. “This group has done a good job of maintaining its presence no matter what the score. And now, everyone left is here for a good reason. We will just focus on facing Sandy Valley again, and play this one game at a time.”