By Ted Waddell
GRAHAMSVILLE Talk about a come from behind victory.
Late in Tuesday night’s Section IX Class C semifinal, the No. 1 seed Tri-Valley Bears were in a 16-point hole against the fourth-seeded Rhinebeck Hawks. But the Bears fought back in the final seconds of regulation play to tie the score at 52-52. They then outscored the Hawks 9-5 in overtime for a dramatic 61-57 victory.
T-V (15-5) moves on the Section IX Class C championship game tonight at SUNY New Paltz. The Bears will face No. 3 seed Millbrook with tip-off scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
Rhinebeck ended its season with an 8-13 record.
The Bears found themselves trailing the Hawks by 16 points about halfway through the third quarter.
With about two minutes left in that stanza, T-V started on the comeback trail in the wake of a couple of steals converted into buckets, shaving Rhinebeck’s advantage to 10 points (41-31).
At the 5.2-second mark in the third period, Tri-Valley’s Dustin VanLieu ripped apart the Hawks’ defense for a basket to bring the home team within three points (41-38), and was fouled going to the rim.
VanLieu made his free throw to pull the Bears to within a basket to close out the third period.
T-V tied it up at 41-41 to open the fourth quarter as Andrew Yager scored thanks to an assist from VanLieu.
Rhinebeck’s Nick Lunn responded with a 3-point shot.
But a determined VanLieu wasn’t going to be denied on the subsequent Bears’ possession as he cut through the Rhinebeck defense for two points.
With 35.7 seconds left in regulation, Yager stepped up to the free- throw line for two shots. He made one of those shots.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, VanLieu was fouled. He converted one of his free throws to tie the game at 52-52. The shot ultimately forced the game into OT.
The Hawks struck first in overtime, but Yager tied it up at 54-54 seconds later by using his size to score inside.
VanLieu was fouled at 2:18 and put T-V up 56-54 as he aced his two shots from the line.
In back-to-back steals, VanLieu passed the ball off to Tim Martin twice who went up for four points, giving the Bears a 60-54 lead at the 1:35 mark.
The Hawks’ Pat Henke knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a 60-57 game.
T-V Coach Brian Tingley yanked a sneak option out of the football playbook, and called for a full- court pass from Yager to Dan Killian. The hometown fans and cheerleaders went wild even though the “Hail Mary” pass came up short.
Yager came up with a rebound off the glass after Rhinebeck failed at the free-throw line. He was fouled while grabbing the ball and stepped up to the foul line on the other side of the court.
He missed both shots and Rhinebeck regained possession. The Hawks’ Ryan O’Han tried to feed it in to a teammate under the basket, but it was picked off by Yager, who was again fouled.
On this trip to the free-throw line with 24.7 seconds remaining, Yager made one of his shots to seal the Bears’ four-point triumph.
At the final buzzer, the crowd poured out onto the floor. Among those fans was wheelchair-bound Lou Baggatta, the father of 17-year-old T-V senior small forward Dom Baggatta.
Last Friday, the elder Baggatta had a couple of steel rods surgically implanted in his back as the result of a freak accident at work. But like his son’s team, he wasn’t going be denied a trip to the sectionals.
“I had to be here, I ain’t missing no game,” Lou Baggatta said moments after hugging his sweat-soaked son.
“It was great just knowing that my dad was here,” Dom Baggatta said.
Leading the Bears to victory were Yager, who had a game-high 20 points, VanLieu (17 points), and Tim Martin (13 points).
O’Han paced Rhinebeck with 18 points. Henke and Lunn added 13 points and 10 points, respectively.
T-V went 13-of 29 (45 percent) at the free-throw line, while Rhinebeck was 4-of-12 (33 percent).
Rhinebeck Coach David Aierstok said rebounding was a key factor in the game on both sides of the court.
“The kids have some heart,” Tingley said. “We looked tired in the beginning [of the game], but then we turned it on.”
He said that coming back onto the floor after halftime, “We didn’t want to panic. We wanted to keep our heads.
“Timmy [Martin] was all over the place for us,” Tingley added.
“I’m glad we didn’t lose it because a lot of guys left a lot of points on the free-throw line,” Tingley said. “If we’d lost, there would have been a lot of people thinking ‘If only I’d made that shot!’”