Right before Milton Academy took the court at Western New England College Sunday afternoon, Lamar Reddick told his players, “all we have to do is win by 1 point.”
It was not an easy path, but the Wildcats found way, pulling out a thrilling last-second 77-76 victory over Independent School League rival St. Sebastian’s for the NEPSAC Class A title in Springfield.
It capped a 24-2 finish for the 12-year coach and his Wildcats, the program’s first NEPSAC title.
After St. Sebastian’s senior Trevor Mullin (25 points) tied the game up at 74 with a minute left, the Arrows (26-2) grabbed a loose ball and held possession with 31 seconds left, with a chance to take its first lead since 48-47 with 11:47to play.
But Milton Academy’s Austin Hunt intercepted a pass, sprinted down the right side, and soared in for the go-ahead basket with 8.2 seconds left, drew the foul, and sank the free throw for a 77-74 advantage.
“That play in itself was absolutely amazing,” Reddick said. “It’s their ball with less than 30 seconds in the game and he makes the steal and goes down to score and-one . . . it was just a great play. That shows you how (good) of a two-way player he is.”
“It was just one of those things where the game is on the line,” said Hunt, a junior from Marlborough who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half.
“It’s the last possession of the game and I’ve got to lock in and do whatever I can (to help us win). I saw the pass coming and I was able to jump it and get down to score the layup.”
“For whatever reason, my shots weren’t really falling in the first half,” Hunt said. “But I was able to open up my scoring more in the second half thanks to all of the support from my coaches and teammates, telling me to keep shooting and keep playing, they will eventually start to fall.”
Up 3, Milton Academy fouled Mullin (2,026 career points) to prevent a 3-pointer. He sank both free throws. Milton Academy missed a free throw at the other end, but a fullcourt heave by St. Seb’s (26-2) was off the mark.
Senior Jack Graham (Greenville, R.I.) scored a game-high 26 points — including 18 in the first half — was named NEPSAC Class A Tournament MVP.
“It’s a great honor to be named MVP, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, my coaches, everyone on that staff,” Graham said. “Obviously winning MVP is great, but winning the championship means so much more. It’s unbelievable, hard to put into words.”
Division Class B
Rivers 85, Frederick Gunn (Conn.) 51 — Jayden Ndjigue, a 6-foot-4-inch senior wing from Ayer committed to UMass, produced 29 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals — repeating as tourney MVP — as the Red Wings (26-2) captured back-to-back NEPSAC Class B Championships in dominant fashion. On 8-of-10 shooting, Amir Lindsey delivered 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.
“It was a special group of guys — talented, connected, and competitive,” said Rivers coach Keith Zalaski.
Division 2 State
Malden Catholic 82, Northampton 43 — Junior captain Bo Moody netted a career-high 22 points and delivered seven assists, and sophomore Ben Howard also notched a varsity-best 20 points as the top-seeded Lancers (19-2) rolled to the first-round win.
NEPSAC Class AA
Nobles 67, Dexter Southfield 44 — Sunday’s NEPSAC Class AA final was the 32nd game of the season for top-seeded Noble & Greenough. Unparalleled depth had helped the Bulldogs through a grueling schedule and it helped them capture a championship.
Nobles rolled against sixth-seeded Dexter Southfield, sealing the program’s ninth NEPSAC title and a record 29 wins. Coach Alex Gallagher had lofty praise for this year’s squad.
“I would argue that, based on talent, based on ability, [and] based on commitment, this is arguably the best team in the history of a really proud program,” he said. “And that’s not me being hyperbolic. The stats prove it out, but the competition we face also really proved it.”
Nobles (29-3) battled Dexter Southfield (22-6) to a 13-9 lead in the first quarter and then exploded in the second, taking a 37-15 cushion into halftime that never relented. Gallagher hoped his depth would allow the Bulldogs to overpower the opposing defense; it did by raining down nine 3-pointers and thriving in transition. All nine rotation players scored in the first half.
“We thought one of our great strengths against Dexter was our depth,” Gallagher said. “We knew that if we just made it a baseline-to-baseline game, and if we moved the basketball both up the court and sideline-to-sideline, our depth eventually would wear them down.”
Sophomore Ashley Dinges knocked down three 3s and finished with a team-high 17 points in a balanced scoring effort. Gallagher also applauded senior Chayil Mauristhene for spearheading a lockdown defense and holding Dexter Southfield star Orlagh Gormley to 9 points. He labeled the Stonehill-bound Mauristhene one of the best defenders in team history.
“[I’m] really fortunate to be able to coach her and have her at the very front of our defense, dictating the way the game was gonna be played,” he said.
Nobles added three Globe All-Scholastic transfers this season — Dinges (from Central Catholic), Jasmyn Cooper (Oliver Ames) and Grace Oliver — to an already-loaded group. Gallagher explained that it takes unique levels of sacrifice for a star-laden roster to thrive together. After Dinges’s 17, seven other players finished with between 5-9 points in the triumph.
“Today, all three of them, and every kid on our team, knows why the sacrifice was worth it,” he said.
NEPSAC Class B
St. Luke’s 61, Brooks 52 — Virginia Tech-bound senior Mackenzie Nelson notched 16 points for top-seeded St. Luke’s (26-2) in the championship win at Loomis Chaffee.
Ethan Fuller and Brendan Kurie contributed to this story.