For the second straight year, the ninth seeded Scarlet Hawks found themselves on the road in a hostile environment in the First Round of the D2 Central Sectional and once again, down double digits.
That’s where the similarities end.
Last year’s second half comeback came up short in the final minutes but the 2017 Scarlet Hawks, with a bit more experience under their belts, erased a 12-point fourth quarter deficit and walked out of Marlboro High with a 78-73 win over the Panthers in overtime.
“I think what really helped us tonight was last year,” said Milford head coach Paul Seaver. “I have a handful of guys who played on the road at Holliston in the same 8-seed, 9-seed matchup. We were down nine at halftime and we came back to take the lead but lost late. It was familiar tonight, playing from behind but tonight we were able to figure it out.
“The kids believed. It says it right there on our shorts, ‘believe.’ They believed, they never thought we were out of it. Even in the first quarter, we were playing from the whole time but they never stopped believing, especially in the tournament.”
The Scarlet Hawks made their move when they forced 6’8″ Marlboro star Chris Doherty to the bench with four fouls three minutes into the quarter. Junior Kayden Kelley (18 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists) converted a three point play on Doherty’s fourth foul, cutting the deficit to 61-53.
“[Kelley] got dunked on a couple times, you can talk about that if you want but he never stopped playing, he never stopped competing,” Seaver said. “He scored some of the biggest baskets in this game. Just wow, it takes a lot of resiliency to do that and that’s the definition of him.”
With Doherty on the bench, Milford put together a 7-2 run over a two minute span. Kelley hit two free throws, Shane Cosquete hit a floater and Anthony Arcudi (25 points) drained a three from the corner to cut the deficit to three, 63-60, with 2:53 to play.
“I knew how good [Doherty] was coming in, but we knew he got frustrated easily,” Kelley said. “We just kept going at him, once he got four fouls I knew it was my time to takeover.”
Cosquete (13 points) another free throw, Alex Macek came away with a steal on the defensive end, and Zack Tamagni (16 points four assists) converted a three point play with just under two minutes to play to put Milford up 64-63.
Marlboro’s Owen Cappadona (24 points) drained a three in response to put the hosts back up but Tamagni took a defensive rebound the length of the coast and laid it in to tie the game, 66-66, with 48.3 seconds to play.
Milford got a stop on Marlboro’s next possession, but turned the ball over with 2.2 seconds left before getting a shot up. Marlboro had its last second shot from beyond half court hit the front iron to send the game to overtime.
Doherty (17 points, 16 rebounds) started the overtime period and gave Marlboro a brief lead, 68-67 on free throw but Kelley responded with a shot over Doherty to put Milford up 68-67.
The Hawks got a stop on the defensive end and Kelley hauled in the rebound. Doherty went for the steal but instead was whistled for his fifth foul with 3:05 to play.
That gave Milford some momentum with Kelley hitting one free throw and then Cosquete driving to the basket to take a 71-67 lead. The Scarlet Hawks allowed Marlboro to get back into the game, turning to ball over on consecutive possessions leading to four points for the Panthers.
But with Doherty on the bench, the Hawks continued to attack the basket with Kelley taking a feed from Macek to a bucket with just over a minute to play. Marlboro missed a three and Milford went right back to the paint, with Kelley converted a fade away off a pass from Tamagni – who saved the ball from going out of bounds.
“When [Doherty’s] in the game, he’s huge, it’s tough to get anything inside, that’s why he’s one of the best big men in the state,” Seaver said. “When he fouled out, we started getting Kayden some touches. In overtime he hit two big baskets to kind of ice the game, that’s why you stick with it. Doherty is fantastic, he has a bright basketball future ahead of him. But props to Kayden, he dug in the whole way, all 36 minutes.”
Marlboro cut the deficit to two, and then forced a turnover but their go-ahead three attempt rimmed out with 10 seconds to go. Arcudi hit two free throws to ice the game.
“Unreal, absolutely unreal,” Arcudi said. “[Milford’s] first tournament win since 2013. We knew Chris Doherty had four fouls so we wanted to attack the hoop and get to him. Once he got five, we knew we could get to the basket. It’s all about not being complacent, battling through adversity and getting to the hoop, drawing fouls and getting to the line.”
Milford was forced to get the majority of its offense from outside the three point line early on in the game. The Hawks went 5/7 from three point range in the opening quarter but Marlboro shot 56% from the field, hitting 10 field goals for a 23-17 lead after one.
Milford only hit three more three pointers the rest of the game.
“It’s a credit to Marlboro,” Seaver said. “They probably saw us sometime down the stretch when we were hot from the outside. So credit to them to game plan and take the three away from them. We didn’t hit a ton of threes tonight but we found ways to win and balance is going to help us get through.”
Marlboro led by as much as 13 in the second quarter but Milford battled back with Kelley connecting on a put back at the buzzer to keep the deficit in single digits – 37-29 – going into halftime.
The Scarlet Hawks continued to claw back in the third quarter, getting within five points at the midway point when Tamagni sliced through the defense for a circus layup. But Doherty used a nice spin move in the post for a dunk that sparked a 9-0 run that put the Panthers up 14 with under two minutes to play in the third.
“We had nothing to lose, all the pressure was on them,” Arcudi said. “They went to the state final two years ago, district finals last year. We didn’t have anything to lose so pressure was on them.”
Milford boys basketball (11-10) advances to the D2 Central Quarterfinal to take on top-seeded Nashoba (17-3). Of Nashoba’s three losses, two were against Marlboro. The Hawks will travel to Nashoba on Thursday at 7:30.