LITCHFIELD — Fans defying wintry forecasts in favor of a boys basketball battle at the top of the Berkshire League got huge rewards Tuesday evening.
Northwestern’s Ben North was the ultimate hero at Wamogo with a steal and coast-to-coast layup with three seconds left in overtime, capping a 53-51 Highlander win.
But North’s crowning moment was the tip of an iceberg packed with moments and heroes for each side in the back-and-forth thriller.
Like many good dramas, Tuesday’s plot unwound slowly.
Northwestern (6-1) came in 5-0 in the Berkshire League after a lopsided win over defending champion Lewis Mills two weeks ago. Shepaug stunned Wamogo (6-2), another preseason favorite, with its first BL loss two days after Christmas.
“They’re a totally different team from us,” Highlander coach Doug Sebach said. “We’re pretty big this year; they’re all guards.”
Make that hustling guards and jumpers. In the first quarter, Wamogo’s Reid Turtoro was as active on the boards as any of Northwestern’s big men. Still, neither team could find the mark.
Wamogo’s Garrett Sattazahn broke the ice with a three-pointer two minutes in. Northwestern’s Zack Penn (13 points) countered with a layup on a great pass from Oley. Jayson Reola (team-high 14 points) laid it in off the Warrior press, then drove in for a 6-3 lead.
The Highlanders’ lead hung on to 11-7 at the end of the period.
“We were a little tentative at the beginning of the game,” Sebach said. “We loosened up in the second half.”
“Our kids kept battling back,” Wamogo coach Gregg Hunt said.
That was the plot line until it wasn’t.
Northwestern’s Liam Duran opened the gap to six points early in the second quarter. Wamogo’s Sattazahn (game-high 20 points) and Ethan Collins (18 points) raced the Warriors back to a 20-18 lead by halftime.
Then the moments began to pile up. Seesawing by a point or two through the third period, foul shots by North and a 10-foot bank by Turtoro drew the period to a close at 34-33 Northwestern.
A drive by North midway through the fourth quarter stretched Northwestern’s lead to eight (44-36). With 1:18 left, still down five (46-41) after Turtoro and Collins narrowed the gap, Sattazahn hit a three.
With eight seconds left, Collins sinks a layup to tie the game at 46-46.
Overtime was the ultimate reward.
Sattazahn started with a layup before North answered with two foul shots. With 1:09 left, Collins hit a three-pointer for a 51-48 Wamogo lead.
“We’re one rebound away from a win,” Hunt tells his team in the time out that follows.
Instead, Penn puts back his own miss at Northwestern’s end, with a Warrior foul in the process. Penn steps to the line and ties the game at 51-51.
Now, it’s Wamogo’s ball with 44 seconds left. The next basket probably wins it.
The clock drifts down to eight seconds. North steps in front of a Wamogo pass and races down court. The layup is good.
“That’s where all the hard work pays off, but nothing’s ever automatic for me,” the senior guard said. “You’ve just gotta keep playing hard.”
“We were lucky,” Sebach said.
So were the fans.