HUGHESVILLE - When Hughesville reached six straight state tournaments from 2006-2011 and captured four District 4 Class AA champions, the more adverse the conditions, the better it played.
So the Spartans turned back the clock Tuesday night in their home opener. And if they make a playoff run a year after going 8-14, maybe Tuesday will be a turning point.
Tristan Jeffreys drained a long game-tying 3-pointer with 15.6 seconds remaining and Fred Newhart hit the game-winning foul shot with 6-tenths of a second left as Hughesville edged South Williamsport, 51-50. The lead changed hands eight times and the game was tied on 12 occasions in the fourth, but Hughesville (2-1) scored the final five points and moved above .500 for the first time in two seasons.
Hughesville’s Brandon Fortin, on floor, dives for a loose ball between the legs of South Williamsport’s Sean McCormick on Tuesday at Hughesville. The Spartans edged South Williamsport, 51-50. View additonal photos at cu.sungazette.com
"I think it says a lot about the team," Jeffreys said. "If we can play not at our best and still find a way to win, that's big. Obviously, we have a good squad and we're all excited where we're going from here and we know there's a lot bigger things ahead."
That appears the case for South, too, which has only one player with varsity experience back from last season but that overcame a nine-point second-quarter deficit and took a four-point lead with 40 seconds remaining.
A Tyler Mitcheltree free throw made it 50-47 and when South missed its ensuing shot, Hughesville had its opening. Jeffreys dribbled toward the top of the key and launched a 3-pointer as the Mounties converged, swishing it while sending the packed gym into near delirium.
"I just knew I had to step up and hit a shot for my team. I just really wanted that win," Jeffreys said. "It was exciting, but I don't think we really played to our potential. We have to learn that we have to play a full 32 minutes."
Newhart grabbed his eighth rebound following a South miss out of a timeout and was fouled while doing so. The Spartans were in the double bonus, so Newhart went to the line. He rattled home the first shot and missed the second, a good idea since South could not call a timeout and the clock immediately started. Riley Hengler's full-court desperation heave fell short.
That Jeffreys and Newhart figured prominently in the last-minute comeback was fitting. Jeffreys scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Newhart had 13 points and eight rebounds. Newhart was outstanding in the second half, providing force inside while scoring nine of his points and nearly recording his second straight double-double.
"I knew he was going to make at least one of them," Jeffreys said. "Fred is a tough kid. He's always stepping up and making big plays for his team when we need them. He's our rock."
"They're good players. Fred has quietly had a real good year for us," Hughesville coach Nick Tagliaferri said. "Tristan obviously is a good player as well. He's dealt with injuries all preseason and has only been cleared to go all out for a week and a half. We have a ways to go to get him in playing condition but he was big."
South showed why it could be a dangerous darkhorse in Class AA despite losing nearly every contributor from last year's HAC-III champion. Coach Matt Fisher used 10 players and all made a positive impact as South (1-2) outplayed Hughesville over the final 2 1/2 quarters. The Mounties never led until the fourth quarter but also never panicked and made six straight fourth-quarter shots while taking the four-point lead.
Sophomore center Brock Jones was outstanding in the final quarter, scoring 10 of his team-high 14 points. He added seven rebounds and Hengler was strong too, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
"After the first quarter jitters I thought our guys played with a tremendous amount of poise," Fisher said. "I hate to lose and this would have been a great game to get especially with the way our guys competed, but they have nothing to hang their heads about. If we can get that for 32 minutes maybe it's a little different story but the guys played their hearts out. From the second quarter on they did a whale of a job."
Billy Rummings helped spark the comeback in the second quarter, excelling in transition en route to scoring 12 points off the bench. The Mounties also played swarming defense and, after Sean Poust's 3-pointer put Hughesville up 21-12 30 seconds into the second quarter, allowed only three field goals over the game's next 15 minutes.
South did not get the win, but the young players grew up quick at one of the district's biggest venues. That could be big moving forward.
"It opens their eyes to how we're capable of playing," Fisher said. "We talk a lot about doing the small things. It's hard to talk about doing small things winning games by 15 points and losing games by 15 points. This hurts and this is going to stay with them. At the end of the game we had all underclassmen on the floor and the guys played the last four minutes with a lot of poise."
Hughesville used 12 players and looked good in spurts. Ty Stugart played tenacious defense and helped hold Hengler in check. He and Mitcheltree also combined for six assists while Poust and Brandon Fortin hit three 3-pointers in the game's first nine minutes to help the Spartans go up nine.
"We talk like we have aspirations to be better than we are right now and do some things and we have the physical ability to be significantly better than we were tonight," Tagliaferri said. "This is like third game in a row where we've looked really good for some stretches and really bad for others and you can't get so high and so low."
Riley Hengler 3 4-4 10, Brock Jones 7 0-0 14, Sean McCormick 1 3-4 5, Tyler Schonewolf 1 1-2 3, Alex Kita 0 0-0 0, Billy Rummings 5 2-5 12, Eric English 1 0-0 2, Cody Nelson 0 0-2 0, Riley Thomas 0 0-0 0, Devin Gordon 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 10-17 50.
Tristan Jeffreys 6 2-4 15, Fred Newhart 4 5-6 13, Brandon Fortin 1 0-0 3, Ty Stugart 3 2-4 8, Tyler Mitcheltree 2 2-8 6, Jeremiah McCarty 0 0-0 0, Kamaal Burkholder 0 0-2 0, Clint Snyder 0 0-0 0, Nate Hans 0 0-0 0, Austin Benedict 0 0-0 0, Ethan Duff 0 0-0 0, Sean Poust 2 0-0 6. Totals 18 11-23 51.
South12 12 5 21-50
Hughesville18 6 7 20-51
3-pointers: Hughesville 4 (Poust 2, Jeffreys, Fortin).
Records: Hughesville 2-1. South 1-2.
JV Score: Hughesville 65-56.