CLARION – The Johnsonburg Rams had plenty of opportunities to make an improbable comeback after facing a deficit for most of the game as West Middlesex needed two overtime periods to fend off the Rams in a 50-45 double-overtime win.
West Middlesex outscored the Rams 9-4 in the second overtime session to secure the win in the second round of the Class A state playoffs.
Knotted at 41-all after a scoreless first overtime period, Jeremy Jannsco scored a layup with 2:48 to play off an offensive rebound for a 43-41 lead. A jumper from Johnsonburg's Cole Peterson was off the mark on the next possession and Matt Dogan grabbed the rebound. Roman Klaric went to the line for West Middlesex on the other end but missed his attempt.
After a Johnsonburg timeout, a layup from sophomore Cameron Grumley spun in and out of the hoop as West Middlesex regained possession with a 2-point lead. Dogan was later sent to the line with 1:22 on the clock and made both attempts for a 45-41 lead. Grumley was fouled in the lane on the other end driving the lane and was unable to get a shot off. His free throw attempt missed as Trey Staunch picked up the rebound for the Big Red.
Dogan was again fouled 20 seconds later but made only one attempt, good enough for a 46-41 lead.
"We didn't want to have to foul [Dogan] but we had to," Johnsonburg head boys varsity basketball coach Bill Shuey said following the loss. "Of course they're going to give him the ball, he's 6-foot, 6-inches tall. How are we going to keep that from happening?"
Down by five points with less than a minute to play in the second overtime period, Grumley broke through with a layup with 45 seconds on the clock, trimming the margin to just three points at 46-43.
The Rams were again forced to foul Dogan, who converted both attempts to push the lead to five points. Dogan finished with nine of 12 from the line and finished with 13 points.
The Rams were unable to get a clean shot off on the next possession as Jannsco was fouled with 27 seconds remaining. He missed both attempts before Johnsonburg's Quinn Luhr scored on a putback with 14 seconds on the board.
Dogan was again fouled and calmly sank two more free throws for the 50-45 win.
"We made some mistakes and you can't do that in close games," coach Shuey said. "At the end of the first overtime we easily could have had the last shot-- that was the plan-- but they're kids on the floor, they're thinking they can score or make a particular pass but it didn't happen.
"Our mistakes were not a lack of effort, we were trying to make some things happen but sometimes they just don't go our way."
The Rams got started off on the right foot early with a 4-0 lead to open the game with layups from Peterson, who paced all scorers with 19 points, and Grumley. However, the Big Red went on an 8-0 run. A short jumper from Johnsonburg's Frank Kocjancic trimmed the lead to 8-6 but Jerrod Palmer, who paced the Big Red with 14 points, hit his first 3-pointer of the night for an 11-6 lead with 1:34 remaining in the first quarter. Shuey would be fouled down the stretch and converted both attempts to trim the first quarter margin to 11-8.
West Middlesex continued their effective shooting display as Palmer extended the lead to 17-10 with another 3-pointer; not to be outdone, Peterson countered with a 3-pointer of his own before Palmer hit a layup with 2:22 remaining for a 19-13 lead. Grumley drove the lane 20 seconds later and after a turnover, Peterson hit a layup with 1:45 remaining and was fouled. He would complete the 3-point play as Johnsonburg found themselves down by one point. The Big Red would respond, however, before halftime as Staunch found an opening for a layup and a 3-point lead. After the Rams failed to score on the other end, Klaric was fouled with 12 seconds on the clock and hit both free throws for a 23-18 lead at halftime.
The Rams were unable to score again before the intermission.
"We focused on [Dogan] but we knew that [Palmer] had a lot of points at halftime," coach Shuey said. "I thought we did a better job with [Palmer] in the second half."
Palmer started off strong with his third 3-pointer of the game to open the third quarter and give the Big Red a 26-18 lead but he was then held scoreless for the rest of the game.
Peterson was later sent to the line and hit two free throws, then took possession after a West Middlesex miss on the other end and hit a layup with 5:40 to go in the third quarter to cut the margin to four points at 26-22.
After West Middlesex again came away empty-handed, this time on two missed free throws from Dogan, Johnsonburg's Mitchell Holmberg put in a 3-pointer to again pull within a point of a tie.
After a Dogan layup put the Big Red up by three points, Grumley went away 1-for-2 from the line; Peterson later came up with a steal at half-court and cruised in for an easy layup and a 28-28 tie.
"Cole [Peterson] always seems to be able to get a steal at the right time," coach Shuey said.
The Big Red would regroup as Staunch hit a layup to retake the lead; after a Johnsonburg miss on the other end, Jannsco drove the lane and put up a toss in the paint for a 32-28 lead. After another miss by the Rams, Peterson was able to come up with another steal and raced back for a layup as West Middlesex had a 32-30 lead after three quarters.
The fourth quarter started off on the wrong foot for the Rams as West Middlesex got two more field goals, a layup from Jannsco and another from Klaric, this time off a Johnsonburg turnover. But facing a 6-point deficit was not troublesome for Johnsonburg as they rattled off a 7-0 run to take a 1-point lead.
After Grumley hit a free throw, the Rams got possession after a West Middlesex miss. Shuey grabbed an offensive board and was fouled on the putback. The senior would make his free throw to cut the lead to 36-34.
After another Big Red miss, Peterson ran in for a layup and was fouled; he also made his free throw as the Rams suddenly had a 37-36 lead. The change would not last long.
Dogan was fouled on the other end and sank a pair to retake the 1-point advantage. With the Rams unable to cash in on the other end, Staunch was fouled on the other end. After making the first shot, Staunch missed the second but the ball was swatted in midair by Jannsco, who made the improbable bucket for a 41-37 advantage.
"When they got that, I said 'OK, they got lucky on that one,' then late in regulation [Dogan] went down the lane and we finally got an offensive charge call on him, otherwise that would've been a basket," coach Shuey said. "That was our luck."
Grumley later scored a layup off a steal to trim the lead back down to two points before Dogan was called for an offensive charge on a successful layup that was nullified.
After a timeout, Grumley hit a third-chance layup under the hoop as neither team was able to get a clean rebound. With the score tied at 41-all, the two teams both turned the ball over on their next possessions before the Rams had the ball with 49.6 seconds to go. After being unable to penetrate, the Rams called another timeout near the 15-second mark. On the restart, Shuey had possession as time dwindled but he was unable to get a shot off under pressure as time expired.
"We were looking for a basket, sure we had a play set up," coach Shuey said. "The pressure was there, they doubled on us but we should've got something going to the basket."
The first overtime period was a scoreless affair as neither team was able to end the game. West Middlesex won the tip but failed to score on their first possession. The Rams went down to the other end but also were unable to come up with a successful shot. The Big Red then turned the ball over and the Rams set out to work the clock with less than two minutes remaining.
Looking for a shot inside, a low pass was mishandled by Kocjancic and rolled out of bounds with 33.6 seconds to go, giving the Big Red the chance for the last-second shot.
Dogan missed a lengthy jumper and the ball went out of bounds with 2.1 seconds left after being touched last by the Rams. Jannsco, who finished with 10 points on the night pull up for the last-second jumper but missed the mark, sending the game to the second overtime.
"We had a great season, unfortunately we have to say goodbye to our two seniors, Bill Bliss and Michael Shuey," coach Shuey said. "If we have to end the season with a loss, this is the type of game that it would have to be. We played hard and we really have nothing to be ashamed of."