TOWNSEND — For a good stretch of Monday night’s Mid-Wach C girls basketball tilt between host North Middlesex Regional and Oakmont Regional, the rim resembled a thimble.
Shooting percentages dwindled. Turnovers, on the other hand, mounted. Someone had to grit their teeth and get something to fall.
In the end, two free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining fell, giving North Middlesex a 46-44 come-from-behind win in front of the home faithful.
The victory on Senior Night lifted North Middlesex to 7-7 with four games remaining. The Patriots ended the night needing to win two of their final four games in order to qualify for the postseason, with the first try coming Thursday in Clinton.
The loss dropped Oakmont to 5-10. With four games left, the Spartans were eliminated from postseason contention.
“We had the game,” longtime Spartans coach Jeff O’Neill lamented. “We gave it away. It’s hard, but what are you going to do… that’s basketball. Their effort was fantastic, we worked our tails off.
“We went cold and got away from our offense.”
Oakmont had held an 11-point, 33-22 advantage over the Pats with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, when the light bulb switched on for North Middlesex. A 3-pointer out of freshman Gabby Durham (15 points) — one of three by her on the night — pulled NM to within eight, but Oakmont’s Riley Barrieault (game-high 19 points) slashed her way to the hoop to get the Spartan lead back up to 10.
Seconds later, Durham hit another trifecta.
Barrieault hit the back end of two from the line to get Oakmont back out to an eight-point, 36-28 lead, before hoops from NM’s Lexi DeSimone and a 3-pointer from freshman Julia Landry (team-high 17 points) pulled the Pats to within three, 36-33.
But Barrieault came up with another triple just before the buzzer sounded to end the third.
Durham opened the fourth with a pair from the line before Landry ripped a 3-pointer half-a-minute later to pull North Middlesex to within one, 39-38. But then both sides went cold from the floor for the next 4:34, when Landry hit yet another 3-pointer to put NM in front, 41-39.
Second-year North Middlesex coach Geoff Billingham noted his two freshmen played like upperclassmen.
“I’m going to be honest with you, they haven’t played like freshmen once this year,” he said. “They’ve been thrown in the fire right away. It was a belief by those two that once they stepped on the floor, when game time came, those kids can really bring it.”
After Barrieault hit the back end from the line again, a Jessica Lee (12 points) layup with 51 seconds remaining put Oakmont back in front, 42-41.
Landry scored a driving layup 16 seconds later to put North Middlesex ahead again, before Emma Cullen scored off the offensive glass to put Oakmont ahead, 44-43.
Landry was then fouled in a double bonus situation with 3.3 seconds remaining. She missed the first, and a timeout gave her a few extra seconds to breathe and think about it.
She didn’t miss the second, and this one looked destined for overtime, 44-up.
“She did this earlier this year — two seconds left against Quabbin, she goes to the line and hits both to win,” Billingham said. “Age aside, the moment doesn’t get to her.”
“I knew I had to make them for my teammates,” Landry said, “for my seniors, to make this season special.”
But on the ensuing inbound, junior Raelyn Callahan shifted into the passing lane and stole the ball. Oakmont immediately fouled, sending her to the line with 1.7 seconds remaining.
She made both.
“Huge play by Rae,” Billingham said. “She’s the type of kid who is defense first, and two clutch free throws when it mattered most.”
Two layups out of Katie Kleeman had North Middlesex out to a 4-3 lead early, but the Spartans, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Barrieault and another from Lee put Oakmont ahead, 14-5, with 1:08 remaining in the first quarter.
The Patriots clawed back into the contest, knocking it down to a two-possession game starting with Landry’s trifecta from the elbow. Cullen then scored on the inbound to make it a 17-10 game, before Callahan scored off the window, then hit the second from the charity stripe to pull within four, 17-13.
A Lee hoop and another free throw out of Barrieault made it a seven-point game again, but Durham’s 3-pointer cut the NM deficit to four.
Oakmont held a 26-20 lead at the end of the half.