GLENS FALLS — It was a close game that could have gone either way.
Just like the game’s final call.
“It was a 50-50 [call],” Waterford-Halfmoon junior TJ Kelley said. “It could’ve went both ways.”
But that play went the way of Kelley and Waterford-Halfmoon, as the Fordians continued their underdog run through the Section II Class C boys’ basketball tournament with a 54-52 win Tuesday at Cool Insuring Arena against Fort Plain.
Tied at 52, Waterford-Halfmoon worked the clock down to its final seconds, then got the ball to Kelley, who made his move from the perimeter. Three Fort Plain defenders converged, Kelley put up an off-balance shot on the move . . . and a foul was called with 0.6 seconds left in regulation to send Kelley to the foul line.
“That call’s never made,” Fort Plain head coach Casey Russom said. “I don’t see that call made very often.”
One swish put Waterford-Halfmoon ahead, then Kelley added another before a desperation heave from Fort Plain missed as time expired on the Hilltoppers’ season. Like Kelley, Waterford-Halfmoon head coach Brian Eastman referred to the last-second foul as a “50-50 call,” but he liked the way his player put himself in position to get to the free-throw line.
“That’s the thing with being aggressive and driving,” Eastman said. “He created the contact.”
With the victory against Fort Plain (No. 7, 17-6), Waterford-Halfmoon (No. 11, 17-6) earned the chance to take on Lake George (No. 4, 18-5) in Friday’s final at Cool Insuring Arena. Kelley led the Fordians with a game-high 27 points, and the junior guard helped key Waterford-Halfmoon’s comeback after it trailed 32-21 at halftime.
“We had to fight back,” Kelley said.
Waterford-Halfmoon did, outscoring Fort Plain 22-8 in the third quarter after the Hilltoppers had taken control in the second with a 14-1 run to start it.
“We found the fire to come back,” Kelley said.
Waterford-Halfmoon’s full-court pressure defense caused problems for Fort Plain in the third quarter.
“It just kind of sped us up and we took some quick shots, some out-of-control shots that led to some easy baskets going the other way without even turning the ball over,” Russom said. “That’s something we worked on in practice and we talked about it. We just didn’t handle that well in the third quarter.”
Trailing 43-40 heading into the fourth quarter, Fort Plain battled back. A 3-pointer from Fort Plain sophomore Levi Thomas on the final period’s opening possession tied the game, and the teams were never separated by more than five points the rest of the way. Before Kelley’s game-winning free throws, Fort Plain senior Ethan Schoch had tied the game at 52 with a driving layup with less than 30 seconds to go in regulation.
Fort Plain received 20 points from junior Troy Butler, and 11 apiece from Thomas and sophomore Robert Jordan. Russom’s squad only included four seniors, and the coach is optimistic this year’s postseason run will be one the Hilltoppers can build on next season.
“I’ll tell you, even the last three or four weeks, this group has been practicing really hard,” Russom said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be around them.”
Waterford-Halfmoon? It’s thrilled to be sticking around for another round, and wants to keep playing beyond Friday. To do so will require the Fordians to register their fourth upset victory of the postseason, but the need to topple another squad ranked better than them doesn’t bother Kelley and Co.
“I like being the underdog,” Kelley said, “[and] showing Section II what we are.”
Waterford 16 5 22 11 — 54
Fort Plain 14 18 8 12 — 52
Waterford-Halfmoon scoring: Fairclough 1-3-5, Kelley 9-6-27, Houle 4-1-9, Bodah 1-1-3, Talavera 4-0-8, Pontore 1-0-2. Fort Plain scoring: Schoch 3-1-8, Butler 7-6-20, Thomas 4-0-11, Welch 0-2-2, Jordan 3-5-11. Scoring totals: Waterford-Halfmoon 20-11-54, Fort Plain 17-14-52.