The Hawks were on the verge of erasing a forgettable first quarter in which Hopkinton dominated, draining shot after shot to build a 23-4 lead — a 19-point advantage less than seven minutes into the game.
But Milford was never quite able to get over the hump down the stretch, going ice cold from deep in the final frame as the eighth-seeded Hillers earned a 66-59 upset of the fourth-seeded Scarlet Hawks.
“We were down 23-4, they were shooting lights out, and the hole was too big to dig out of,” said Milford head coach Paul Seaver. “We kind of weathered the storm, we got it down to five or six [at halftime], we just couldn’t get over the hump. Give [Hopkinton] credit, they are a good team, they had a good game plan. They took away Colby and Ben with their box-and-one and their triangle-and-two. We needed other shots to fall. And [Hopkinton] shot the lights out.”
Milford trimmed the large first quarter deficit down to 13 by the end of the period, and the upward trajectory continued as the Hawks dropped 21 points in the second to trail by just six, 37-31, at the halftime break.
Hopkinton threatened to run away with it as its lead ballooned to 12 points (46-34) two minutes into the third but Milford continued to battle back, holding the Hillers to two points over the final four minutes and scoring nine points themselves to head into the fourth down 51-48.
The shot Milford needed never came, misfiring on their first nine three-point attempts from the field. Hopkinton opened a 58-51 lead just before the midway point of the final quarter before junior Ralph Franklin Jr. (15 points, six rebounds), who gave the Hawks a big boost off the bench all game, hit two from the line after hauling in an offensive rebound.
The score stayed frozen at 59-53 for over two minutes as both Tyler Wetherbee and Max Martin stepped in to take charges to give Milford a chance. Junior Jordan Darling (14 points, 11 rebounds) converted his own miss and Hopkinton missed seven straight free throws to keep the Hawks in the game.
Darling sank a free throw with 1:15 to go to make it 60-56, and senior Colby Pires tipped a pass free to give the Hawks the ball back, but Milford couldn’t convert on a shot in the paint. Hopkinton sank two at the line and then forced the Hawks into a turnover, sinking two more for a 64-56 lead.
Matty Varteresian sank his second triple of the game, and Milford’s first of the fourth, with 11 seconds to go but the Hillers had a large enough lead to hold on.
“We had open shots, they dared other players to beat them,” Seaver said. “We had some guys hit some shots but we just couldn’t get enough to go down, especially in the fourth quarter. And the defense wasn’t good enough for us. It was a sign of a team with three seniors on the roster. [Hopkinton] has seven or eight seniors on their roster and they made plays. When it comes to the tournament, seniors do weird things and can find a way sometimes.”
It was a dream start for the Hillers, who knocked off top-seeded Grafton in the opener round and now will take on Wayland in the D2 Central Final. Hopkinton went 9-for-17 from the floor in the opening eight minutes, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
And it wasn’t just one Hiller either, as six different players joined the scoring column in the opening minutes. And each of the four three-pointers came from a different player with Steven Maffiore, Thomas Ambrosone, Brian Keefe, and Travis Finfrock all connected from long range. And Hopkinton big man Elan Rosen had his way down low, going 3-for-3.
Wetherbee hit a three, Sean Murray came off the bench for a free throw, and Darling had a strong take to help Milford finish with a 6-0 surge to qualm the storm some.
After hitting a three to start the quarter, Darling was whistled for a foul, sending him to the bench alongside fellow starter Dom Schofield, both with two fouls. Franklin Jr. kept the Hawks afloat though, hitting a three and then a free throw. Wetherbee added three the traditional way and Ben Blanchard got free for his first triple of the game.
Murray hit another free throw and Franklin Jr. had four straight points as Milford closed with a 5-0 burst to get within 37-31 at the break.
After going down a dozen in the third, Milford’s bench sparked the comeback to get the Hawks back in the game. Franklin Jr. fought for an offensive board and putback and Varteresian splashed in a three.
Martin added a three of his own on one end and came up with a steal on the other, leading to a fast break that resulted in two free throws from Pires. Darling closed with four straight points as Milford trialed 51-48 after three.
“Guys came off the bench like they have all season, we are a deep team and versatility has been a positive,” Seaver said. “It gave us a spark but we just couldn’t get over it, which goes back to the hole we dug early in the game which is frustrating.”
Milford boys basketball finishes the season at 14-8.