STOUGHTON, Mass. – Even with a raucous crowd roaring just to her left, sophomore Lilah Milton knocked down the first of two free throws with fewer than 20 seconds remaining in the game to give Canton a one-point lead at Stoughton and put the Bulldogs on the brink of tournament qualification for the first time since 2011.
Milton’s second free throw bounced off the front of the rim and was rebounded by Stoughton junior Lindsay McDonald, as the home crowd somehow got even louder, adding to the playoff-like atmosphere of the rivalry game. Maggie Connolly came within inches of a steal for the Bulldogs at midcourt, but Aliyah Wright came away with it and found McDonald open in the corner.
With adrenaline pumping, McDonald’s shot sailed over the rim, over 6-foot-3 Canton center Erin Devine and right to the hands of Jordan Motley. The forward went up strong, finished around the outstretched arms of Devine with four seconds on the clock, and lifted Stoughton to a thrilling 49-48 come from behind victory.
Here is the frantic final sequence of tonight’s game, Lilah Milton hit the first of two free throws to put Canton ahead but Jordan Motley’s rebound and score gave Stoughton the win #hockomock pic.twitter.com/J8okWfH23T
— Josh Perry (@Josh_Perry10) February 17, 2018
A night that began with Motley being honored on the court with the rest of Stoughton’s senior class ended with her being swallowed up by her classmates who stormed the court after the final horn sounded.
“Canton played phenomenal and for us we just grinded it out with our defense,” said Stoughton coach Charmaine Steele Jordan. “We missed a ton of free throws but we got it done at the end of the game and Jordan Motley came through like you hope for any senior on senior night with a tough finish down there.”
“Throughout the season we haven’t had a lot of fans,” Motley said in between photos with friends and family after the game, “but tonight they showed out and that pushed us even when we were down. Even when we were losing they still cheered for us and that was awesome.”
It was a heartbreaking finish for Canton, but the Bulldogs season is far from over. Canton will travel to Weymouth on Tuesday and a win will clinch the program’s elusive return to the playoffs.
“We always talk about playing our best towards the end of the year going into the tournament, whether we make it or not, and we are playing great right now,” said Canton coach Jim Choquette. “We put ourselves in the position to beat a playoff team and a team that beat us the first time around. The girls just dug deeper and deeper and deeper.”
Stoughton got off to a great start, leading 6-0 in the early going, but Canton bounced right back behind junior point guard Julia Hamilton, who caught fire from three-point range. Hamilton hit four from beyond the arc, scoring 12 of her team-high 14 points in the quarter. With Devine on the bench with foul trouble, Milton stepped in with four points to help the Bulldogs to a 16-10 lead after one.
The Black Knights came back strong in the second by getting the ball into senior forward Val Whalen (19 points and 14 rebounds). She scored nine points in the quarter and was helped by Wright (15 points), who also scored nine in the second. After a Whalen put-back, Connolly went end-to-end for a layup but Stoughton went into the break leading 31-28.
Canton came out strong in the second half, holding Stoughton to two points on a couple of free throws in the third quarter and putting together what ended up being a 17-4 run that put the Bulldogs ahead by as many as 10 points (45-35).
After being held to just five points in the first half, senior forward Hannah Jerrier (13 points and 14 rebounds) scored six in the third, including a layup off a Connolly offensive rebound and assist.
“Most games we know everyone is going to focus on her and do everything they can to stop Hannah,” said Choquette. “Once Julia hit some shots and Lilah was able to get some seams then it left Hannah open.”
In the fourth, Canton continued to be aggressive on the offensive end with Milton (12 points) competing a three-point play and Hamilton driving and dishing to a cutting Connolly (six points and 10 rebounds) for a layup that extended the lead to 10 points and forced a Stoughton timeout.
“We just said keep our heads up,” said Motley about the conversation in the huddle. “Our team is very young and they haven’t been in situations like this that often so Val and I as seniors we told them it’s our senior night, we want to win, and to keep our head up the whole game.”
The Black Knights regrouped, switched to man-to-man defense and were spurred on by one of the largest crowds the team has drawn this season. Wright scored off a Sydnee Hyacinthe assist in transition to start the comeback and Motley scored in the post to cut the lead down to five. A Whalen transition basket made it a three-point game and this time it was Canton forced to call time.
“We had several close games at the start of the season and it kind of prepared them to keep it together, keep their cool,” said Steele Jordan. “My team believed in each other and getting stops.”
Wright swooped across the rim for a lefty layup on the break to make it a one-point game at 45-44, but Hamilton answered with a pair of clutch free throws for the Bulldogs. Whalen assisted on a Wright basket to again make it a one-point game and then the senior made 1-of-2 at the line to tie it.
Had the Black Knights not gotten the win, free throw shooting would have been the story for the hosts, who made only 14-of-32 at the line.
Instead, the win gives Stoughton, which has now won 10-of-11 since a 1-7 start to the season, even more confidence heading into the tournament, especially if the Black Knights continue to get this level of support from the fans.
“Oh my goodness, the atmosphere was fantastic,” said Steele Jordan. “The stands were full. The fans were phenomenal. For me, this is the way you want a senior night to be.”
Choquette dismissed the idea of this being a tough loss to recover from with one game to play. He insisted, “No, we’re not bouncing back from some team that we should’ve beaten who’s 5-15. We lost on a last-second shot to a playoff-caliber team and we earned the right by playing so well all year to play another game and have a chance to go to the tournament.”