With under two minutes to go in its game against Enosburg on Friday night, the Missisquoi boys basketball team trailed by six points and were heading to the free-throw line for a pair of shots.
Gabe Unwin was the Thunderbird that was fouled on the play, but he had to come out before taking his shots to get tended to by the trainer.
Missisquoi coach Matt Walker turned to junior Luc Fournier, who stepped in to take the free-throw shots and drained both, sparking a Thunderbird comeback in the process. A pair of clutch shots by Patrick Walker in the final 45 seconds completed the comeback tying the game and sending it to overtime where the Thunderbirds finished the job with the 57-55 victory.
“Luc broke his hand before the season and missed preseason and is just coming back wearing the brace, but I had no doubt putting him in for that situation,” said Missisquoi coach Matt Walker. “I turned around and asked him ‘You got these’ and he just stood up and said ‘I got these’.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Enosburg led by as much as 10, as it took a 48-38 lead with just over four minutes to go after a Devyn Gleason basket.
From there, Patrick Walker took over scoring eight of his 18 points in the final four minutes to help lead the charge in the end.
Unwin held the Thunderbirds within reach when Enosburg looked like it was starting to pull away, as he finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“You know Enosburg is going to play tough like they always do and Gabe and Patrick both really stepped up in clutch situations,” said coach Walker. “They have been on the team since they were freshmen and they stepped up big for us tonight in a very physical game tonight.”
After Fournier’s free throws, Unwin sunk the one of two free throws to make it a one score game at 49-46. Shea Howrigan hit a free throw of his own to make it a two-score game again at 50-46. During the Thunderbirds’ next possession Patrick Walker took it at the top of the key and nailed a 3-pointer to make it 50-49 with 45 seconds remaining.
Gleason was fouled during the Hornets’ next possession and made one of two from the free throw line to keep it a two-point game. Patrick Walker took the next possession into his own hands driving hard to the basket and floating in a shot to tie the game 51-51 with 11 seconds to go. Enosburg’s attempt at a buzzer beater missed sending the game to overtime.
“When we got behind, we knew that we just had to keep playing defense and don’t foul,” said Unwin. “We knew we had to take it one play at a time, get stops and it all started with defense.”
In overtime, Unwin scored three unanswered points to start things off and the Thunderbirds hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
The Hornets had a bit of a comeback of their own earlier in the game. After falling behind 14-7 after the first quarter, they used their 3-point shooting to jump out front in the second quarter, as they took a 24-22 lead into halftime and had a 40-36 lead at the end of the third.
Gleason led the charge with a game-high 21 points for Enosburg. Owen McKinstry finished the game with 12 points, while Howrigan knocked in 10.
The Thunderbirds held a big advantage in the free throw department, as they had 34 free throws making 19 of them, while Enosburg was 6 of 16 from the charity stripe. The Hornets had opportunities to put the game away late from the free throw line, but missed on a couple late giving the Thunderbirds the opening they needed.
“I thought the biggest thing was just the difference in the amount of free throws the two teams took,” said Enosburg coach Chad Lovelette. “I thought we did a pretty good job defending their big guys, but you can’t do much when you are sending them to the free throw line that much.
“We dug ourselves in a whole early on, but I thought we came out of it nicely. But at the end of the game, you have to make free throws. That’s a big difference.”
It was the second straight tough loss for the Hornets against another tough Division II opponent. They also fell in the season opener to Mt. Abraham 49-43.
While he has been happy with his teams competing against the teams from higher divisions, Lovelettte said he is hoping they can find a way to close out the games.
“It’s nice to be competing, but we have to find a way to win these games,” he said. “It was the same thing against Mt. Abraham where we were up by four or five points with three or four minutes to go. You have to win those games.”
It was a good game between the two Franklin County teams that had a very different feel to it this year without fans in attendance.
“Without the fans, we just had to find a way to keep ourselves motivated throughout the game,” said Unwin. “Last game (at Middlebury) we didn’t quite have that, but we found it tonight.”
While the Thunderbirds turned the ball over a bit in the second and third quarters to allow Enosburg to take the lead, they found their groove early and late to come away with the victory.
They dug down and battled back through the adversity to come away with their first win of the season, as they improved to 1-1.
“We started out strong tonight, but kind of let up for a bit,” said coach Walker. “Enosburg didn’t let up at all, so we were fortunate to be able to come back in this one tonight. Sometimes we just threw it to the other team tonight, so we had some nerves out there it seemed tonight and we made some mistakes, but we also did a lot of good things to come back and come away with a win over a good team in Enosburg.”
The Thunderbirds will look to make it two wins in a row on Tuesday when they travel to Peoples, while Enosburg will try and pick up its first win of the season when it travels to Lake Region on the same day.