AUGUSTA — Coming out of a timeout with 12 seconds left, Luke Hartwell looked at Cody Laweryson. A sophomore, Laweryson didn’t flinch.
“I told Cody in the timeout,’You’re going for the win. Can you handle that?’ He said ‘Yes.’” Hartwell, Valley High School’s boys basketball coach, said.
With eight seconds left in the Western Class D championship game, Laweryson shot his 3-pointer from the elbow. It was good. It was Laweryson’s third 3-pointer of the game and Valley’s third 3-pointer in the final minute and a half, and gave the Cavaliers a 50-49 win over the Hyde School.
“Coach just told us, if we couldn’t get an easy two, get a three, and I hit it,” Laweryson said. “I just had confidence at that point.”
Valley, now 17-4, will play in the state championship game for the first time since 2006. The Cavaliers’ opponent will be Hodgdon, which beat Southern Aroostook for the Eastern Class D title. Hyde, which beat Valley twice in the regular season, by 23 and 11 points, ends the season at 18-3.
“Never give up. It’s 32 minutes of basketball. Our boys kept with it,” Hartwell said.
“It just feels good to be one of those (Valley) teams that goes to the state game,” Jordan Gillespie, who won the John Messina Award as the Western Class D tournament’s most valuable player, said.
Laweryson’s late 3-pointer gave Valley its only lead of the game at capped a wild final two minutes. When Warsame Mohamed made a free throw with 1:44 to play, the Phoenix had a 45-39 lead. A Gillespie 3-pointer with 1:29 to play cut Hyde’s lead in half. Twice Mohamed missed the front end of a one and one at the line, and Luke Malloy’s long 3-pointer tied the game at 45-45 with 59 seconds left.
“We missed some crucial free throws. We sink the free throws, the game’s out of reach,” Hyde coach Peter Rowe said.
Still, the Phoenix regained the lead, 47-45, on a Talin Rowe layup seconds after Malloy’s tying shot. After the Cavs missed three free throws, Hyde’s Kiefer Cundy made a pair of foul shots with 30.1 seconds left to push the Phoenix lead to 49-45.
A Teagan Staples layup on a put back cut Hyde’s lead to 49-47 with 12 seconds left, and the Phoenix turned the ball over attempting a court length pass, setting up Valley for Laweryson’s game-winner.
“I’m sure our players wish they had that last pass back, because we’re up two with the ball. You can’t throw the length of the court. That’s a game changer,” Rowe said. “When you get to possession basketball, you’ve got to treat every possession as though it’s your last. We didn’t execute.”
With 2.7 seconds left, Hyde turned the ball over, and Valley was able to run out the clock and celebrate.
“They have some really talented players. It was just big that we didn’t give up,” Laweryson said.
Hyde went on an 8-0 run to take its largest lead, 36-25, with 1:40 left in the third. With the 6-foot-4 Mohamed and 6-6 Akim Sanni, Hyde enjoyed a size advantage. Hartwell said playing the Phoenix twice in the regular season was an advantage, because it allowed the Cavs to get used to Hyde’s length.
With that in mind, the Cavs decided to counter Hyde’s size with speed. For most of the game, Hartwell had the 5-5 Gillespie defend Mohamed on the perimeter, while getting help when Mohamed went inside.
“Mohamed is very quick with the basketball. He keeps it low. The only guy on my team who can really defend that low dribble is Jordan,” Hartwell said. “Even though he gave up about 10 inches of height, I figured (Mohamed) doesn’t like to post up a lot, so we’ll look to use our ball pressure and get him tired. You could see in the fourth quarter, he was tired. He was missing shots, and that helped us at the very end.”
Mohamed had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Staples helped hold Sanni to 10 points and six boards.
“I just took the challenge and clamped down,” Gillespie said.
Hyde led 13-5 after one quarter, and Valley got to within two points before entering the half down 22-17. Hyde pushed its lead to 11 in the third and led 36-29 entering the fourth quarter.
Dylan Belanger led Valley with 13 points. Laweryson added 11 points. Staples had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavs, and Gillespie had 10 points, eight in the fourth quarter.