MAYFIELD - After three quarters of a back-and-forth battle between the Fort Plain and Mayfield boys basketball teams, the fourth quarter belonged to the Hilltoppers.
The Hilltoppers kept the Mayfield Panthers off the scoreboard for most of the quarter, giving them time to build a 13-point lead on their way to a 43-36 win at Mayfield Central School on Tuesday night.
"We knew we had to pick it up," said Zach Sweet, who scored a game-high 18 points, while also keeping Mayfield guard Dylan Toscano in check. "Our main thing was to stop them from scoring. We had to shut them down. As Joe [Ray] said, he came up to me into the fourth quarter. He was like 'shut them down. No more scoring.' That got me pumped up to really push it and keep them down."
Mayfield’s Brandon Smith goes up for a layup as Fort Plain’s Chris Hanifin defends during Tuesday’s Western Athletic Conference North boys basketball game in Mayfield. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
Ray's pep talk did the job as Mayfield didn't score in the fourth quarter until Luke VanNostrand knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:35 left in the game.
By then the Hilltoppers (2-0 overall, 2-0 WAC North) had built a double-digit lead, 41-30.
"Defense wins championships," Ray said. "Defense wins games and that's what we pride ourselves on, defense."
Amid the defensive effort, Ray scored 15 points, including some of the most vital of the game.
Fort Plain entered the fourth quarter trailing by four points, and baskets by Ray and Chris Hanifin tied the game at 28-28 with 6:33 to go.
Then, about 40 seconds later, Hanifin was fouled by Mayfield's Josh Gallup as he drove the line, sending him to the free-throw line.
He knocked down 1 of 2 free throws to give Fort Plain a 29-28 lead.
Then, with 4:22 left in the game, Ray's three-pointer gave Fort Plain a four-point lead.
"It came out of my hand. I really wasn't sure about it," Ray said. "But when it went in, it was pure enjoyment. It got us pumped. From there, I don't think we gave up the lead, and it got us playing a lot better."
Sweet followed with two straight baskets for Fort Plain's last field goal in the game. The Hilltoppers scored their remaining seven points from the foul line - five from Ray and two from Sweet - to finish things off.
"We haven't shot free throws well all year yet," Fort Plain coach Casey Russom said. "We were a little better tonight. Free throws are important to make when it matters. I think when it mattered, we only missed one."
The Panthers (2-2 overall, 0-1 WAC North) scored all eight of their fourth-quarter points within the final two minutes.
"We had some easy looks at the basket and we just couldn't get them to fall," Mayfield coach Brian VanNostrand said. "We had a few down low and I've seen my guys make them probably hundreds of times in practice and hundreds of times in games. We had that movement and we couldn't get it to fall."
The Panthers got on the board early, scoring the game's first five points on baskets by Brandon Smith and Toscano and built an 8-3 with 3:56 left in the quarter, but Sweet hit a 3-pointer with a second remaining in the in the quarter to give Fort Plain some momentum heading into the fourth.
The Panthers never led by more than five points in the quarter and Sweet hit his second pointer with 1:48 to go in the second quarter to tie the game at 16-16.
Hanifin hit a free throw with 8.5 second left to give Fort Plain a 17-16 lead at the end of the first half.
"In a close game like that, which all the league games are going to be, it's a game of runs, and not necessarily big runs," Russom said. "We had a two- or three- or five-point run and that might win you the game. It did that tonight."
Ryan Hennessy led the Panthers with 12 points.
"They really wanted this game," coach VanNostrand said. "I told them we'll learn from this and move forward. That's the only thing we can do, and I think they will."
Fort Plain 43, Mayfield 36
Fort Plain8 9 7 19 - 43
Mayfield12 4 12 8 - 36
Belden 1-0-2, Hanifin 1-2-5, Orologio 2-1-5, Ray 4-2-15, Sweet, 6-3-17. Totals 14-11-43.
Hennessy 5-1-12, Palmer 1-0-2, Smith 3-17, Sweeney 0-1-1, Toscano 3-0-8, VanNostrand 2-2-6. Totals 14-5-36.
3-point goals: Fort Plain 4 (Ray 2, Sweet 2); Mayfield 3 (Hennessy, Toscano 2).