HAGERSTOWN — It would have been unrealistic for Eastern Hancock to expect its final 3-point attempt — a 50-foot heave at the game-ending buzzer — to fall.
The Royals only wish one or two more of the closer-to-the-basket attempts would have fallen.
Union County edged Eastern Hancock 45-43 Friday to advance to tonight’s Class 2A Sectional 41 championship vs. Northeastern (21-2).
Despite a 36 percent shooting effort on the night, Eastern Hancock had a chance to prevail, trailing 45-43 with 1.8 seconds remaining. EH sophomore Tom Barton inbounded from underneath his own basket to senior guard Garrett Hancock, who couldn’t reach halfcourt before launching a 3-point attempt that was off the mark.
Three weeks ago, Eastern Hancock (16-6) hit enough key shots to edge Union County 78-74 in triple overtime. In the sectional rematch, however, the Royals’ 7-of-28 mark from behind the 3-point line ultimately doomed their chances.
“Some shots didn’t go for us tonight that have went for us a lot of times this year,” EH coach Aaron Spaulding said. “We kind of rely on the jump shot, so when those don’t go we’ve got to find other ways. And they did a nice job of keeping us off the boards where we couldn’t get those second-chance points.
“So, hats off to them. It was a great game, they were just a tad bit better than we were tonight.”
Neither squad gained much separation throughout the contest. The Patriots (19-4) overcame their largest deficit — 18-13 — by closing the first half with an 11-2 blitz. And they maintained a 34-28 advantage heading into the final quarter.
Brandon Himes’ bucket to open the fourth quarter threatened to blow the game open for Union County, but Hancock and teammate Isaiah McCormick combined for three straight 3-pointers (with two from McCormick), and the Royals had their lone second-half lead at 37-36 with four minutes, 20 seconds remaining.
Union County quickly recovered to build a 43-39 lead with under one minute to go — converting 4-of-4 free throw attempts plus a 2-pointer — while Eastern Hancock missed nine of its final 11 field goal attempts.
Hunter Miller, who scored a game-high 18 points for the Patriots, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2.1 seconds left, setting up Hancock’s final 3-point try.
The Royals kept the Patriots within reach by taking care of the basketball. Union County’s late second-quarter surge was aided by five EH turnovers. The Royals had only one giveaway the entire second half.
“We talked at halftime … we have to at least give ourselves a chance to score the basketball each and every possession,” Spaulding said. “We’ve got to get some sort of good shot. Whether they go or not, that’s another thing.
“So, we made some adjustments. But, two good teams, it’s going to come down to the wire … just unfortunately we had a few shots there at the end where we could have took the lead and it just didn’t fall for us.”
Miller added a game-high seven rebounds for the Patriots, who also got nine points from Logan Sanford and eight from Himes.
Union County will aim to beat Northeastern for a second time; the Patriots topped the Knights 64-56 to win a holiday tourney championship at Northeastern on Dec. 28. The Knights, who have never won a sectional title, suffered their only other loss at Monroe Central, 63-58, on Nov. 27 in the season opener.
McCormick, a senior, and junior Derrik Noel paced EH with 12 points each.
The duo were part of a resurgent Royals season; the club finished 6-15 a year ago.
“They exceeded anybody’s expectations of them coming into the year, so they have nothing to hang their heads about,” Spaulding said. “We left it on the line tonight, took a very good team to the wire and just came up a little bit short.”
Notes: The Royals will lose McCormick, Hancock, Dustin Davidson and Caleb Wallen to graduation. Noel and fellow juniors Logan Splater and Cooper Henderson are starters from Friday eligible to return. … This marks the first season since 2007 that at least one Hancock County boys or girls basketball team didn’t win a sectional title. … Noel and Barton each had a team-high five rebounds.
2A SECTIONAL 41 AT HAGERSTOWN
Union County 45, Eastern Hancock 43
EH — Davidson 0-0 0-0 0, McCormick 4-11 0-0 12, Fout 1-5 2-2 5, Henderson 1-2 0-0 3, Noel 5-11 2-2 12, Wallen 0-0 0-0 0, Barton 2-3 0-0 4, Hancock 2-12 0-0 5, Splater 1-1 0-0 2. Totals — 16-45 4-4 43.
UC — Finch 2-5 0-0 4, Himes 2-6 4-6 8, Fields 1-5 0-0 2, Sanford 3-3 1-2 9, H. Miller 7-11 3-6 18, Norris 2-4 0-0 4, D. Miller 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 17-34 8-14 45.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
EH (16-6) 11 9 8 15 — 43
UC (19-4) 7 17 10 11 — 45
Three-pt. field goals: EH 7-28 (McCormick 4-10, Hancock 1-11, Fout 1-5, Henderson 1-2). UC 3-10 (Himes 0-3, Fields 0-1, Sanford 2-2, H. Miller 1-2, Norris 0-2).
Rebounds: EH 24 (McCormick 2, Noel 5, Hancock 2, Fout 2, Barton 5, Henderson 2, Splater 4, Davidson 2), UC 21 (Finch 2, Himes 4, Fields 2, Sanford 1, H. Miller 7, Norris 3, D. Miller 2). Assists: EH 12 (McCormick 3, Noel 3, Hancock 2, Fout 1, Barton 1, Splater 1, Davidson 1), UC 11 (Finch 3, Himes 1, Fields 3, H. Miller 2, Norris 2). Steals: EH 8 (McCormick 3, Noel 3, Hancock 1, Splater 1), UC 7 (Finch 1, Sanford 1, H. Miller 1, Norris 4). Blocks: EH 0, UC 2 (H. Miller 2). Total fouls: EH 13, UC 9. Fouled out: Splater (EH). Turnovers: EH 10, UC 10.