Senior forward Mike Donahue puts up a shot after an offensive rebound during MA’s 46-44 win over Epping in the Division IV quarterfinal round on March 2. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
March 05, 2012MOULTONBORO – While visiting Epping High School was smelling upset for the majority of the game, top-seeded Moultonboro Academy showed why its undefeated on March 2.
Senior forward Marcus Swedberg scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, and the Panthers overcame a seven-point deficit in the third quarter to escape the upset-minded and eighth-seeded Blue Devils, 46-44, in a Division IV quarterfinal game.
The win sent the Panthers (20-0) to the semifinal round, where MA was scheduled to meet fifth-seeded Derryfield School (15-5) after deadline on Tuesday, March 6, at Plymouth State. A win would send them through to the state championship, also to be played at Plymouth State, on Saturday, March 10, at 1 p.m.
"In the back of your mind, you hope that you can always control every game you play but you know that's just not going to happen," said MA coach Matt Swedberg. "Once you get to this point in the season, you have games that you have to grind out. This one was one of those."
Epping (12-8) led 34-27 with 2:32 left in the third quarter after Jimmy Stanley (19 points) sank a runner to fire up the Blue Devil bench.
"This was definitely the toughest game we've had this year," admitted MA senior Mike Donahue. "We expected a fast-paced game and we knew we had to slow it down to be able to win it."
With his team trailing and the rest of the season looking in jeopardy, Marcus Swedberg took control of the fourth quarter, igniting a run that saw the Panthers claw back and tie the game at 39-39 thanks to a Nick Sindorf layup with 3:40 left.
Swedberg scored seven of his 21 points in the fourth, as his two free throws with 1:42 to play put MA ahead for good at 43-41.
"It was a little scary," said Marcus Swedberg of the near-upset. "Since the last game of the regular season, we've basically been saying that each game could be our last game. When we're losing in the fourth quarter, I think that's when that sort of clicked for us."
MA led 44-41 after a Drew Swedberg free throw with 1:07 left, and Epping called a timeout to set up a potential game-tying basket in the final minute.
"The play we drew up was supposed to be a double screen for Jimmy (Stanley) to get off a tying three-pointer," said Epping coach Tim Sullivan.
Stanley couldn't get a good look from downtown, and he ended up driving to the basket for a layup. Stanley was fouled with 9.7 seconds left, and he hit one of two free throws to cut the deficit to 44-42.
Marcus Swedberg put the game away after he was fouled with 7.7 seconds to play, as the senior sank a pair of freebies. Epping's Jacob West scored a meaningless layup at the buzzer to make it a 46-44 final.
"I was happy for our guys to be able to step to the line and hit their free throws," said coach Swedberg.
Epping certainly didn't look like your typical eighth seed, as the Devils came out on fire and displayed confidence as part of a quick 7-2 advantage.
"I couldn't have drawn up the way we started any better," said Sullivan. "(MA's) an outstanding team, as advertised. But to get the lead early and not have to play from behind, that was our goal. Just to keep it close and give ourselves a shot."
The Devils were one of the more athletic teams the Panthers have seen all season, and the visitors trailed just 15-14 after one quarter. Epping picked apart MA's 2-3 zone defense in the second, as Stanley drained back-to-back threes in the frame and the Devils led 26-23 at intermission.
"Before the game, not having seen them this season, I heard about their athletic ability," said coach Swedberg. "We started with our 2-3, wanted to get a feel for their players. After watching them, I thought we could match up with them so we switched it up to a man-to-man."
The defensive shift worked, as Epping scored just 18 points in the second half and the Panthers fought their way to a hard-nosed victory.
"We felt all season we were much better than an eight-seed," Sullivan explained. "We never were lacking for confidence, our goal was to get to Plymouth. We knew (MA) hadn't been challenged much this year so we wanted to try and take it to them. Marcus had to really earn what he got, but I knew it was a matter of time before he got it going."
Sindorf joined Swedberg in double figures for MA with 12 points and six rebounds, while Donahue neared a double-double with eight points and 12 boards. Swedberg added five steals, four rebounds and two blocks to go with his 21 points. Those three players combined for 41 of MA's 46 points.
"I kept saying all year, all I want to do is get to Plymouth," Marcus Swedberg explained.
Jimmy Stanley's 19 points paced Epping, while brother Frank Stanley added 12 in the loss.
The trip to Plymouth State is the third in four years for the Panthers, as the team lost in the semifinals last year. MA fell in the quarterfinal round two years ago after capturing the state championship in 2009.