CANAJOHARIE - Late game pressure doesn't faze Fort Plain anymore.
Last minute wins at home to Saratoga Catholic and on the road in Mayfield have taught them how to win late. On Wednesday night in front of a packed house at Canajoharie High School, they showed the Western Athletic Conference North Division leaders just that.
With 1:15 left in the game, Marcus Failing buried a 3-pointer while getting fouled, finishing the four-point play to put the game out of reach for Canjo as Fort Plain now ties its rivals atop the WAC North standings with a 37-32 win.
Fort Plain’s Harold Dettmer, right, is defended by Canajoharie’s Josh Gonzalez (44) during the third quarter of a Western Athletic Conference North Division contest at Canajoharie High School on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Erich Neuhaus)
"We talked to these kids about growing and maturing, and I think we matured tonight," Fort Plain coach Casey Russom said. "They're growing and getting older, but they've matured as a basketball team the last couple of weeks."
The win makes it seven-straight league wins for the Hilltoppers, who avenge their earlier loss to Canajoharie on Dec. 14.
Both teams now have equal 8-1 WAC North records with just three league games remaining.
"I wanted to win as a team," Failing said. "We just wanted this so bad because they beat us at our house and we beat them at their house."
Failing's bucket capped off a 10-0 run by the Hilltoppers, who trailed 28-25 inside of five minutes left before making their move.
"I told them, 'If we can get into the last couple minutes [with the score] close, we're going to be alright,'" Russom told his players. "And that's what happened."
Canjo did close within 35-32 during the final 30-seconds, but Failing capped off his 14-point night on a layup that beat the Cougars press.
The way both teams were playing defense, a 10-0 run from either team at any point during the game was going to be enough to pull out the victory.
Canjo's zone gave Fort Plain all they could handle for most of the night, but Fort Plain's diamond-and-1 was one better.
Zach Sweet and Jake Sardina traded turns shadowing the Cougars leading-scorer Ryan Hodge the entire night.
The senior came in averaging close to 17 points per contest. He scored just five, all in the first quarter, Wednesday.
"We figured if we cut the head off the monster the body would fall," Russom said.
Fort Plain's defense limited Canjo to just seven field goals after the first quarter and held the hosts to just one made field goal in the third, allowing them to take a 24-23 lead into the fourth.
Canajoharie coach Rick Palumbo said the diamond-and-1 "hurt us."
"I thought 'Maybe they might try [the diamond-and-1],'" he said, "but this loss is on me for not preparing them better to go against that. Obviously we weren't very patient and it's tough on a 17-year old kid [Hodge] when he's getting pressured and he's your leading scorer. That's a hard thing to adapt to. We as a group did not do a good job, me included, in preparing ourselves to beat that."
Fort Plain didn't take advantage of its terrific defense until its fourth-quarter rally. Despite holding Canajoharie to just three points in the third quarter, the Hilltoppers only managed six points themselves.
With the Hilltoppers struggling on offense, it just gave them more of an initiative to buckle down on defense.
"Sometimes they just don't fall and you just have to work hard on defense and then they'll come," said Fort Plain captain Harold Dettmer, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Failing said he and his teammates pride themselves on defense and it shows. Only once in WAC North play have they allowed a team to score than 50 points.
"We work real hard in practice to make sure that we shut any team down, every way possible," said Failing, who scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth.
Fort Plain now puts themselves in a position for at least a share of the WAC title.
"This was a huge game. This gives us a chance," Russom said. "Like I've said all along, the next game is the most important and now it's Northville."
The Cougars were led by freshman Josh Gonzalez's eight points on offense while Zach Folts cleaned up eight boards.
Hodge being locked down was certainly not because of his effort. The captain did everything but score - tying up possessions, getting on the floor for loose balls - but just didn't have it offensively.
"People don't realize what he gives of himself every game," Palumbo said.
Canajoharie will take its defensive performance and move on to play Mayfield on Friday.
"I can't fault our defense," Palumbo said. "Our defense has been our constant all year, and usually we score enough points to overcome that."
Fort Plain 37, Canajoharie 32
Fort Plain 11 7 6 13 - 37
Canajoharie 14 6 3 9 - 32
Dettmer 3-4-10, Hanifin 1-0-2, Ray 0-2-2, Sweet 1-0-3, Failing 5-1-14, Sardina 2-0-4, Belden 1-0-2. Totals: 13-7-37.
Hodge 2-1-5, Veeder 1-0-3, Horning 2-0-4, Shannon 1-0-2, Folts 1-1-3, Bowerman 0-1-1, Gonzalez 3-2-8. Totals: 13-7-32
3-point goals: Fort Plain 4 (Failing 3, Sweet); Canajoharie 1 (Veeder).