BANGOR, Maine – The experience factor of playing on big stages benefited Josiah Richard and his Foxcroft Academy basketball teammates Tuesday night.
Richard, one of four Ponies’ starters who are also starters on the school’s football team, calmly canned two free throws with 2.8 seconds to go as coach Dave Carey’s club earned a hard-fought 54-52 Class C quarterfinal victory over Stearns of Millinocket at the Bangor Auditorium.
The fifth-ranked Ponies (16-3) take on top-seeded Washington Academy of East Machias in Friday’s semifinals while the Minutemen cap their season 14-5.
Richard, one of four Foxcroft players to crack double figures with 12 points, was set up one-on-one with Stearns’ Josh MacDonald in the final seconds and the game tied at 52, and MacDonald fouled Richard just to the left of the foul line as he was going up to shoot.
“I wanted to take the last shot and then I was going up for the shot and he reached behind my back and hit me in the arm,” said Richard.
Stearns then called a timeout to set up a desperation play, and Brandon McLaughlin’s heave from halfcourt was just wide of the mark.
“I’ll take my chances with them winning or losing on a desperation shot,” said Carey. “We didn’t want to get close enough to have somebody jump into us and get fouled.”
As anticipated, this game was tight throughout, with the biggest lead for either team being a 42-37 Stearns advantage heading to the fourth.
But the Ponies responded with a 9-1 run that included a conventional three-point play from Ryan Stroud and a one-hander in the lane by Richard.
“It seems like that’s how it’s been all year, we work pretty good together,” said Richard.
Stroud would lead the Ponies with 16 points while Ian Champeon and James Johnson each had 12, with Johnson and Champeon each gathering eight rebounds.
Garen Manzo had 16 points to lead the Minutemen and McLaughlin netted 12.
Stearns responded to Foxcroft’s fourth-quarter run with one of its own, using a 7-2 surge keyed by Manzo’s steal and coast-to-coast layup to take a 50-48 lead with 2:50 to play.
But the Ponies’ confidence and toughness was unshakable.
“I challenged them, for a while I didn’t feel like we were playing as a team with the toughness that I thought we needed to win a game like that,” said Carey.
Foxcroft wound up holding Stearns without a field goal the rest of the way, and Stearns’ best chance to win it with the game tied at 52 game when Manzo was set up for a 1-and-1 with 22.5 left, but his first attempt rimmed out.
“It seemed like a lot of things went the wrong way for both teams,” Richard said. “It did seem like the last team to have the ball would win.”
That team was the Ponies.