WASHINGTON TWP - Mahwah junior Cormac Henriquez buried a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds to go in the game to propel the Thunderbirds to a 38-35 win over No. 2 seeded Westwood.
“Cormac hit a big shot,” said Mahwah coach Mike Branagh. “He’s been hitting them all year and it’s a great win for us and big for our program as the 10 seed.”
There were 3.9 seconds left on the clock when Mahwah senior Nick Laverghetta inbounded the ball to Henriquez outside the arc to the left of the paint. Henriquez jumped up and launched the ball.
“I was catching it, shooting it and when I let it go I knew it was going in,” he said.
Westwood had one last chance with 1.5 seconds to go but the inbound pass was intercepted by Mahwah freshman Nicky Peltekian and the game ended. The teams, who split the regular season series, battled throughout.
“We were familiar with each other,” Branagh said, “but they’re a great defensive team and we did enough tonight. We knocked down some shots.”
“When we were preparing for them,” Henriquez said, “coach said we know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do. We came in with a gameplan. We knew they were going to run a lot of flex and we were ready for it.”
The Cardinals led 7-2 at the end of the first quarter, but the Thunderbirds exploded for 20 points in the second quarter thanks to 8 points (including two 3’s) by Henriquez and 5 points (including one 3) by senior Dai’evian Davis.
“It’s just a team effort,” Davis said. “Everyone chips in. That’s how we do things. It’s not a one-man show. As a team we were very excited for the game. We were talking about it in school all day.”
Davis also did a masterful job of defending Westwood’s high scoring senior Colin Liddy. Davis held Liddy to only 2 points in the first half, as the Thunderbirds took a 22-14 lead into intermission.
“We thought Liddy is obviously one of the best scorers in our league,” Branagh said. “Dai’evian held him to six the last time out and he was just as good this time. He’s got more energy than I’ve ever seen in anybody. He just really locked it up.”
“As a team we had to eliminate Colin Liddy shots,” said Davis. “If we did that we had a good chance to win the game. I tried to stay on him, not let him catch the ball as much, not let him get as many shots off. I wanted to stay on him the whole game and try to wear him out.”
As the second half began Westwood seniors Joe Kramer, Nick Navarro and Liddy each scored 4 points as the Cardinals fought back. Davis scored all six points for Mahwah in the third on two free throws and two baskets to keep Mahwah ahead, 28-26, heading into the fourth quarter.
“He hit some big shots,” Branagh said of Davis. “He’s able to create off the dribble and he’s a step faster than everybody else. He had a great performance. Last time out he got sick and wasn’t able to play. We gave him some Granola bars this time and he ate.”
Laverghetta, off a pass from Davis, drained a three to give Mahwah a five-point lead, 31-26, early in the fourth quarter. But Liddy canned a free throw and Kramer and Liddy scored on consecutive possessions to tie the game 31-31.
Then Liddy stole the ball and scored and Westwood led by two. Mahwah senior Kyle O’Malley hit a foul shot and Henriquez went coast-to-coast for a layup after he stole the ball to put the Thunderbirds up, 34-33, with less than two minutes to go in the game.
Laverghetta hit a free throw to up the lead to 2 points but Kramer scored from in close to tie the game one last time with 51 seconds to go.
The teams traded offensive possessions without scoring and the Thunderbirds got possession with 3.9 seconds left, setting up Henriquez’s heroics.
“When we were shooting in Mahwah pregame,” Henriquez said, “I had some feeling in my head that this game was going to come down to the wire and someone was going to hit a buzzer-beater.”
Henriquez finished with 13 points, while Davis contributed 11. Kramer had 12 for Westwood and Liddy ended up with 11. Mahwah moves on to play Jefferson Saturday afternoon. It could be another close one, but the Thunderbirds have been there before.
“Our season has kind of been like that the whole way,” Branagh said. “We’ve been in three overtime games and five or six buzzer-beaters.”
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