“Passing and foul shots,” said Smithsburg coach Mike Williams. “It’s as elementary as you can get.”
One less turnover and a couple of more foul shots would have made a world of difference for the Leopards on Tuesday in their 48-45 loss to Brunswick in the Maryland Class 1A West Region East Section final.
In fact, if the Leopards just shot foul shots better — missing 10 of 20 free throws game, including a pair of 1-and-1s — it might not have come down to an all-or-nothing finish to tie the game in regulation.
“We had a lot of lazy passes. I was yelling, ‘Ball fake, ball fake, ball fake,’” Williams said. “That’s the kind of stuff you learn in elementary school. But at the end, we were looking and were down just one or two and said we were where we wanted to be.”
After Brunswick (15-9) blew Smithsburg out at home in their last meeting, the Leopards just wanted to stay close. Neither team led by more than five points in the game.
The teams battled through five ties and 16 lead changes to get to the final three minutes, which turned into a chess match.
Each team milked the clock with the Railroaders trying to protect the lead and the Leopards trying to stay in position to snatch the section title in the end.
Bryan Tracey scored on a follow shot with 26 seconds remaining to move Smithsburg to within 46-45. Brunswick called timeout six seconds later to devise a closing strategy.
The Leopards were forced to foul Zach Hossler with 16.7 seconds remaining and put him at the line for a 1-and-1 situation. Hossler, the Railroaders’ outside shooting threat, hit both shots to give Brunswick the three-point lead.
“They don’t miss foul shots. They have been that way all season.” Williams said. “We knew Hossler couldn’t miss, but it was the only thing we could do to try to win.”
Smithsburg worked for the tying basket against Brunswick’s 2-3 zone. The Leopards worked across the front of the defense and got the ball to Austin Ryan for a 3 off the right wing with six seconds remaining.
Cobi King rebounded the miss and headed for the left corner to hoist a desperation 3 that fell short at the buzzer, moving the Railroaders into the West final against Allegany at Hagerstown Community College on Saturday at noon.
Allegany defeated Mountain Ridge 77-64 to win the West section.
“We told them that if we stayed close after the first quarter, we knew we belonged,” Williams said. “I think they might have been thinking about that.”
Kevin Gibson scored on a tip of his own miss with one second left in the first quarter to give Smithsburg an 18-17 lead. Brunswick battled back from a 28-23 deficit with a 6-0 run to take a 29-28 lead at the intermission.
The Railroaders owned four- and three-point leads in the third quarter before Smithsburg rallied to tie the game at 37-all after three quarters. Brunswick’s Joe Fawley hit a 3 and an eight-footer with 3:35 remaining to give the Railroaders a 44-40 lead to set up the final acts.
Hossler led Brunswick with 19 points, while Fawley added 11. The Railroaders solidified their position by hitting 13 of 15 foul shots.
Matthew Sprecher led Smithsburg with 12.
“We’ve been shorthanded for the last half of the season,” Williams said. “Against Boonsboro, we didn’t miss those shots. Today was a different day. I told them I was proud of them. The effort was there. The only thing we didn’t do was win.”
Brunswick 48, Smithburg 45
King 6, Ryan 3, Sprecher 12, Shifler 2, Stevens 8, Gibson 7, Dinterman 4, Tracey 3. Totals 15 10-20 45.
Hossler 19, Darling 6, Fawley 11, Axline 2, Price 8, Howard 2. Totals 15 13-15 48.
Smithsburg 18 10 9 8 — 45
Brunswick 17 12 8 11 — 48
3-point goals — Smithsburg 5 (Sprecher 2, King, Ryan, Stevens), Brunswick 3 (Hossler 2, Fawley). Fouled out — Darling.