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Devils Rally Past Lakers for D-IV Title

  • Sunapee's James Fitzgerald fouls Epping's Jacob West during the NHIAA championship game at Plymouth State University on Saturday, March 15, 2014.  (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

    Sunapee's James Fitzgerald fouls Epping's Jacob West during the NHIAA championship game at Plymouth State University on Saturday, March 15, 2014. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee's bench and fans look in disbelief as the clock winds down in Saturday's NHIAA championship game against Epping at Plymouth State University.  (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

    Sunapee's bench and fans look in disbelief as the clock winds down in Saturday's NHIAA championship game against Epping at Plymouth State University. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

  • Sunapee's James Fitzgerald fouls Epping's Jacob West during the NHIAA championship game at Plymouth State University on Saturday, March 15, 2014.  (Alan MacRae/Valley News)
  • Sunapee's bench and fans look in disbelief as the clock winds down in Saturday's NHIAA championship game against Epping at Plymouth State University.  (Alan MacRae/Valley News)

Holderness, n.h. — The second quarter of Epping’s 74-70 win over Sunapee for the NHIAA Division IV boys basketball championship just might have been the longest eight minutes of Blue Devils’ senior guard Jimmy Stanley’s life.

Glued to the bench for the final 48 seconds of the first quarter and the entirety of the second quarter after picking up his third foul, the prolific-scoring Stanley (21.7 points per game) could only sit and watch as his team fell into a 44-31 halftime hole.

With Stanley out of the game, No. 4 Sunapee (18-4) turned a 22-17 lead at the first-quarter break into as much as a 15-point cushion (42-27 and 44-29) before settling for the 13-point halftime advantage over the No. 3 Blue Devils (19-3).

“You have no idea,” Stanley said, when asked about the frustration of the forced respite. “I was really upset that I’d picked up my third foul. I had so much built-up aggression just sitting there. I just knew that when I got back in, I wanted to light a fire under my team.”

Consider the job done. When he came back from exile, Stanley immediately took the game over, scoring 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half to lead the Blue Devils to the victory and title.

After Sunapee’s Nick Skarin opened the second-half scoring by finishing off a nice Alex Giodassis dish with a easy layup to make it 46-31, Stanley scored eight points to help trigger a 12-2 Epping run over the next 4:12.

Suddenly, it was very much a game at 48-43, and Sunapee’s first-half brilliance seemed less a luxury than it did a necessity.

Sunapee was a model of efficiency in the game’s first two quarters. Nine of the Lakers’ 16 first-half field goals came on drives to the basket or on offensive put-backs, and six were 3-pointers. Only a spinning, 12-foot leaner from sophomore guard Issiah Chappell (18 points) came from the mid-range.

Even so, Lakers coach Ed Tenney could only lament over what very well might have been an opportunity lost.

“To tell you the truth, in the second quarter, I wish we’d pushed it out a bit more, made it even more decisive,” the coach said. “I think it gave them a boost of confidence to keep it at 13, knowing that Stanley would be coming back in the game.”

The 6-foot-3 Stanley’s third-quarter binge came not because of any lack of defensive intensity on Sunapee’s part, but instead as the result of some cold-blooded shot making. Back-to-back off-the-dribble jumpers made it 46-35 Sunapee at 6:52. Then, an aggressively contested, 15-foot turnaround jumper from the right baseline cut the lead to nine at 5:55.

“(Stanley) came out and made some incredible shots against what I thought was some very good defense,” Tenney said. “I don’t fault our kids. He just made a lot of plays.”

Sunapee’s Chappell answered with a high-arcing floater to temporarily halt the run at 5:26, making it 48-37, but an Aziz Zerguine drive, a Stanley fastbreak bucket and a Dylan Derosier banker on an offensive rebound pulled the Blue Devils within 48-43.

Sunapee’s Jesse Stiffler (12 points) drained a 3-pointer from the right wing and James Fitzgerald converted 1-of-2 from the line in the final 1:44 of the third quarter to give the Lakers some breathing room heading into the fourth quarter with a 52-47 advantage.

When Epping’s Brett Couture (14 points, 10 rebounds) opened the fourth with a leaner in the lane at 7:54 and Zerguine added a single free throw just three seconds later, it was 52-50, and Blue Devils coach Sean Young’s halftime prediction had come true.

“I kept telling them (at the half) that we were only down 13,” Young said. “I told them that we had taken the best punch they had, and that we were still in the game. I knew we’d be able to make a run. I knew we’d get back in it.”

Epping may have grabbed the game’s momentum, but Sunapee refused to fold. After the Blue Devils pulled to within one (55-54) at 6:51 for the first time since early in the first quarter, Sunapee responded with an 11-4 run for a 66-58 lead with 3:26 to play.

Stiffler buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to start the surge, Skarin hit a 10-footer from the left baseline and James Fitzgerald (15 points, 11 rebounds) added an inside hoop and also went 4-for-4 from the line during the stretch.

With Sunapee back on firmer ground, and Epping’s fortunes seeming to hang in the balance on its next possession, it was an unlikely hero, at least on this day, who stepped up and made a huge play.

Blue Devil sophomore Colby Wilson had been 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range to that point in the game, and when he flexed his knees and prepared to let fly some 24 feet from the hoop, one Epping fan’s voice emerged loud and clear over the rest.

“No, Colby! No!”

A half-second later, that voice was buried beneath an avalanche of Blue Devil cheers. Wilson’s bomb touched nothing but net, and Epping was back within five, 66-61, with 3:26 remaining.

It was the only three of the game for Epping, and it helped set the stage for a blistering final few minutes. Fitzgerald made 1-of-2 from the line to give Sunapee a 67-61 lead at 3:06, but a Stanley drive, two Nick Padgett free throws, and an old-fashioned three-point play (drive and foul shot) from Zerguine gave Epping its first lead, 68-67 since it was 4-3.

Sunapee’s Matt Tenney (nine points) made a single foul shot to knot it at 68-68 at 1:14 before Stanley knifed in from the right baseline to put Epping up, 70-68, with 57 seconds to play. But Tenney came right back with a double-pump, extra-English drive for the game’s final tie, at 70-70, with 46 seconds remaining.

Stanley proved to be more than just a scorer on Epping’s next possession. After posting up and drawing the attention of two Sunapee defenders on the left block, Stanley hit a cutting Chandler Brissette for an uncontested layup with 24 seconds left, making it 72-70. It was Brissette’s only field goal of the day.

As the fans on both sides of the packed Foley Gym stood and roared, the Lakers ran an effective offensive set on their final possession. Tenney penetrated and found an open Skarin for an 8-footer from the left baseline, but the senior forward’s shot with three seconds remaining was long.

Epping’s Stanley snatched the rebound and was fouled, and at the other end swished a pair of free throws to ice the game.

Notes: Stanley finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and three assists. … The finals appearance was the first for Epping since a 1992 win over Derryfield, and Sunapee’s first since 1963. …The teams split a pair of regular season meetings, with Epping winning 57-51 at home on December 18, and Sunapee returning the favor, 92-69, on February 6. … Epping owned a 42-35 edge in rebounds. … Sunapee made 8-of-22 3-point attempts (36.4 percent), while Epping made just 1-of-15 (6.7 percent)… Epping shot 76.5 percent from the free throw line (13-17), and Sunapee 57.1 percent (14-24). ... Stanley was also a first-team all-state soccer selection for the Blue Devils last fall. “Just an athlete,” he laughed. “No skill.”