NEWPORT–This one hurt.
Coming so close to an important victory and having it land just out of your reach can be maddening. That is what happened Monday night when the Essex Hornets were able to snatch victory from the hands of defeat, coming back and trumping the North Country boys basketball team 61-59 in a highly emotional Metro Division showdown.
"It was very tough," said coach Bonvechio on the loss, "It was a very physical game and we are not a particularly physical team, so having to play much of the game with kids in foul trouble was difficult for us, but I think the kids responded and played hard."
Signs pointed to a low scoring affair in the first, as both teams were taking their time to feel each other out.
Essex guard Luke Salerno pulled back and made a three to get things going in the first. Teammate Ryan Forbes made one of two from the line, and it was 4-0 Hornets.
Jason Hatin got the Falcons on the board with a free throw and jumper off of a rebound, and it was 4-3. Five points from Thomas Carton stretched the Essex lead to six, but North Country answered with two from Tyler Paxman and a three from Caleb Prue, and as it was a 9-8 game.
Carton got the ball with seconds remaining and drained his second three of the first, and when the horn finally sounded it was the boys in blue up 12-8.
The Falcons had played a tight defensive eight minutes, but with his ankle still bothering him, top NCU defender Taylor Prue was on the bench early with two quick fouls.
"Taylor has not been himself since he came back from the ankle injury," said the coach, "He is my best defensive player in the front-court and I need him out there. I know he is playing his heart out, but he is not where we hoped he would be at this point."
The Falcons came out in the second on a mission, and judging by their efforts early in the frame, they were going make their point heard loud and clear.
Prue started play with a three pointer, Colton White grabbed a Hatin rebound and made the put-back, and Prue found freshman Matt Duncan for a long jumper.
Joey Picard stopped the run at seven with a two, but Prue and Duncan switched roles, with the freshman finding the junior for the open look.
"I know he is a freshman, but the excitement, the chemistry (we have), it's something different, and we like it," said Prue about playing with his new running buddy Duncan.
Said Bonvechio of the duo, "They are guys who are both scorers and they are learning to play with each other a little bit more. We have been working on some things in practice where if one puts the ball on the floor the other one slides into a spot to try and get an open shot.
"They are both very capable scorers, so for the next year and a half I think we are going to see some special things from those boys."
Josh Puckett then got into the action, hitting a three to move the lead to six.
Duncan put the Falcons up by eight, but Jack Valley launched a three to slow things down.
The teams would go back and forth, primarily from the line, and after sixteen minutes, North Country had moved ahead 28-24.
After a quiet intermission, Essex opened the second half with Ryan Forbes going one for two from the line.
Get used to the phrases "from the line" and "one for two," because foul-mania kicked into high gear in the third.
Essex went to the line thirteen times in the quarter, making eight, while North Country was 7/10 during their time on the stripe.
After Forbes' one, Devon Martin went on a nice stretch, scoring 4 and picking up an assist on a Prue bucket.
Essex took over after Martin's fourth point, going on a 11-2 run to even the score at thirty-six.
The Falcons regrouped, and outscored Essex 9-4 to close out the quarter up 45-40 after twenty-four minutes of foul-studded action.
Sounds promising right? I thought so, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit concerned with the fact that both Prues and Hatin were entering the final eight minutes with four fouls apiece.
The fourth quarter was a nail biter.
Coach Bonvechio had no choice, but to start the frame with his top scorer on the bench in hopes that he would be available in the final minutes if things stayed close.
He left the offense in the hands of Duncan, and the freshman would not disappoint.
The Hornets came out and scored four points right off the bat to make it a one point contest.
Taylor Prue, who with his hurt ankle and four fouls was playing on borrowed time, found Duncan for three to move the lead back to four.
Carton went one for two, then Duncan completed the and-one giving him six points thus far in the quarter.
By this time Taylor Prue was out of the game, and Hatin and Caleb Prue were back in, doing a delicate dance as to avoid das boot.
Both Martin and Hatin went one for two, but led by Carton's six points, Essex tied the contest at 53-53 with less than three minutes to play.
It would be Carton striking again, this time for the lead, as his five straight, plus one from Valley, had Essex up 59-53.
With both Prues now firmly planted on the bench, Duncan rose to the occasion and nailed a three with forty-one seconds to go, closing the gap to three.
Essex managed to waste thirteen seconds before getting fouled, and Dee Barnes made one of two.
More precious seconds ticked away before Barnes was fouled again, this time he made both to move the score to 61-56.
North Country had thirteen seconds left to score six for the win, or at least five to get the game into overtime.
They came close, real close, about as close as you can with out getting it done.
As they swarmed around the Hornet basket, nothing seemed to be open, until the very last second, literally, when Duncan hit his third three of the fourth and was fouled at the buzzer.
But Duncan would have been awarded only one shot, so the closest the Falcons could have got was 61-60. But instead it would be 61-59 as Duncan was not allowed to shoot because it would not have been a factor in the final outcome.
I must take my hat off to the boys in white for their effort on Monday. They played with a lot of heart, especially in the fourth quarter, when their bench really stepped up for them.
Duncan and Caleb Prue each had sixteen points, followed by the third member of the Falcons in double-digits, Colton White with ten.
Essex' Thomas Carton led all scorers with twenty-three.
Just like last week, North Country will be playing three games in seven days, and they are right back at it tonight when they head down south to take on St. Johnsbury. Tip is scheduled for 6:30, with the J/V game starting at 5:00.
Speaking of the J/V team, in the night's opening contest, the J/V Falcons, led by Tyler Sanville's thirteen points, defeated the junior Hornets 55-43.
Traven Rosamilia also made it double figures, dropping in eleven points, followed by Connor Hogan with seven and Chris Lepage and Rejean Roberge, each with six.