Fort Plain earns emotional victory

FORT PLAIN – In what was without a doubt the most emotionally charged game of the season, the Fort Plain Hilltoppers stood tall.

The Hilltoppers wore black bands on their uniforms with the number 19 on them in memory of former Fort Plain standout athletic Bo Baker who was killed in a car crash last Friday and donned pink socks in support of the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer. Add to the mix they were hosting Saratoga Central Catholic, a team that beat them 72-25 on Dec. 21, on senior night in front of a packed gym with a chance to move into a second-place tie with the Saints in the Western Athletic Conference North standings.

“Obviously to focus tonight was on Bo Baker, that is such a tragedy,” Fort Plain coach Casey Russom said. “That is what is great about our community; they come together and support each other when they need it. I told these guys, you don’t get many opportunities to play for something bigger than the game. That is what they did tonight.”

Led by senior Marcus Failing, the Hilltoppers avenged their early-season loss with a 73-70 overtime victory over Spa Catholic on Wednesday night at the Harry Hoag Elementary School.

“This is our home gym and our senior night,” Failing said. ‘This is our family here and we went out there and got the win.”

The Hilltoppers were all business in the opening half of Wednesday’s game, breaking out to an 11-9 lead at the end of the opening period.

Spa Catholic’s Cam Coons tied the game at 11 in the opening seconds of the second period, before Failing found his spot behind the 3-point arc. The senior guard hit a pair of 3-pointers to spark a two-and-and-half minute, 13-0 run to build a 24-11 lead.

The Saints rallied to trim the lead to six, 30-24 before Zach Florian beat the buzzer with his lay up off a long shot attempt by Zach Sweet to stake the Hilltoppers to a 32-24 halftime advantage.

Spa Catholic came back to tie the game at 38 midway through the third period, but they could not shake the Hilltoppers. Florian and Failing remained hot from the field, combining for 11 points over the final three minutes to give Fort Plain a 49-46 edge heading into the fourth quarter.

The Hilltoppers clung to their lead, before Keegan Murphy converted a pair of free throws with 1:02 remaining to tie the game at 62.

Both teams failed to score on consecutive possession, but the Hilltoppers got an opportunity after Chris Hanifin pulled down a defensive rebound with 18.5 seconds left in regulation.

It took the Hilltoppers three inbounds plays that were interrupted by Spa Catholic fouls, before they got the ball in Failing’s hand and he delivered with a 3-pointer with .2-seconds showing on the clock.

However, as the Hilltoppers celebrated, the officials ruled there were 2.6-seconds remaining when the ball went in, giving the Saints one more chance.

Luke Spicer threw a long inbounds pass up court that found its way to Ryan Czarnecki in the corner. Czarnecki launched a 3-pointer that was in flight when the buzzer sounded and swished through the net send the game into overtime tied at 65.

“Especially the way it went down,” Russom said of the emotional roller coaster in the closing seconds of regulation play. “Marcus hit that three with 2.6 seconds left and we thought we had it. Then that kid [Czarnecki] hit to tie the game. How does your team react? You talk about having to deal with adversity, as it is a big part of life. We have been in a lot of close games lately and we are starting to make the big plays and this is the difference.”

Although the Saints got a strong five-point five-rebound performance from Michael Naughton in the four-minute overtime period, it was not enough.

Failing drained a pair of 3-pointers to go with a strong drive to the basket, while Florian and Jacob Sardina pulled down defensive rebounds to give the Hilltoppers the emotionally charged, hard-fought 73-70 victory.

“When I went back to the huddle I said ‘Guys, this is a great memory but we have to win,” Failing said. “Win or lose we are a family no matter what. I hit a couple of shots and we shut Spa Catholic down.”

Murphy led a trio of Saints in double-digits with 16 points, while Naughton and Czarnecki scored 15 points apiece.

Failing connected for six 3-pointers en route to his game-high 26-point performance. Florian finished with 18 points, while Hanifin also reached double-digits with 12.

The win pulls Fort Plain into a tie with Spa Catholic for the runner-up spot behind Canajoharie in the WAC North standings with a record of 7-4. Both teams have one game remaining to qualify for the WAC Cup tournament.

“We have to win against St. Johnsville Friday at their house on senior night,” Russom said. “It will be a great rivalry game.”

Fort Plain 73, Saratoga Catholic 70, OT

Saratoga Catholic9 15 22 19 5 – 70

Fort Plain11 21 17 16 8 – 73

Saratoga Catholic

Hall 3-0-8, Coons 2-3-7, Murphy 6-4-16, Winters 3-0-7, Czarnecki 6-2-15, Hmura 1-0-2, Naughton 7-1-15. Totals: 28-10-70.

Fort Plain

Sweet 1-2-5, Hanifin 6-0-12, Ray 2-0-5, Failing 10-0-26, Florian 8-2-18, Belden 1-2-4, Sardina 1-1-3. Totals: 29-7-73.

3-point goals: Saratoga Catholic 4 (Hall 2, Winters, Czarnecki, Fort Plain 8 (Failing 6, Sweet, Ray).

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