Take a look at photos of the game in the media gallery as well as a postgame video interview with Stanley Sajous, Mauro Oliveira, Joe Bunce-Grenon and Marcus Middleton.
Clinging to a two-point lead, 66-64, after Natick's Alex Hilger hit a three with 9.7 seconds left, the Stoughton High boys' basketball team essentially just needed to inbound the ball, get fouled and hit both free throws to seal a victory Thursday night in the opening game of the Blue Devils Holiday Classic at Randolph High.
That happened, but not without some drama in between.
Marcus Middleton got the in bounds pass for Stoughton but was called for a travel in front of the Natick bench giving the Redhawks the ball back with 8.4 seconds left.
After losing to Attleboro on a last-second shot in the season-opener and losing to Milford in the third game of the season after seeing the game slip away in the final minute, Stoughton entered play Thursday night at 1-2 and was staring at the possibility of a third gut-wrenching loss in four games if Natick came through with a play on the offensive end.
Instead, Stoughton's Stanley Sajous, who had two big shots and a pair of key free throws down the stretch, tipped the in bounds pass to teammate Mauro Oliveira, who secured the ball and was immediately fouled.
Oliveira hit both of his shots from the foul line, giving Stoughton a 68-64 win over a previously undefeated Natick squad (now 3-1).
"It just comes down to who wants the ball most, who wants to win," Oliveira said.
Stoughton evens its record to 2-2 and advances to play Hingham in the championship game of the two-game Blue Devils Classic, Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at Randolph High. Hingham beat tournament host Randolph in Thursday's other opening-round game.
"You have to make plays and tonight we made just enough plays to win," Stoughton coach John Gallivan said. "[And] when we didn't make a play, when we gave one back to them, we came up with a defensive play - sometimes by mistake, sometimes by design - but we got enough stops to win the game. [Natick's] a good team - they were undefeated coming into this."
"We wanted to come out and prove to ourselves even when we were struggling, even when we were down, even when it's a close game that we can come out and we can pull out a win no matter how close it is," Middleton added.
In a back-and-forth game, Stoughton went into the fourth quarter with a 50-46 lead. Although Middleton suffered a left ankle injury, Stoughton outscored Natick 5-1 in the final 54.5 seconds of the third quarter after Middleton was helped off the court.
Middleton returned for the start of the fourth, but Natick went on an 8-1 run, taking a 54-51 lead with 4:46 left to play, and appeared ready to start to pull away.
Stoughton answered, however.
Despite the injury, Middleton tied the game at 55 at the four-minute mark with a two-point jumper. After Natick scored the next four points, Sajous scored to cut the deficit to 59-57 and Middleton came through again on the ensuing Stoughton possession, hitting a three-pointer from the corner in front of the Stoughton bench to give the Black Knights the lead for good, 60-59, with 2:15 left.
Middleton said adrenaline got him through the fourth quarter.
"You take a finely tuned athlete like Marcus and take away one of their ankles to some degree it's going to change their game and Marcus is a smart enough kid that he realized he wasn't going to have the power to go to the basket and he just kind of chose his spots and hit a couple of big shots," Gallivan said. "It's just nice having his brain on the court. Even if his ankle is 80-percent...it's like having another coach out there."
Following a Natick turnover Sajous scored again making it 62-59. Natick's Peter Erhardt scored and was fouled with 1:39 left on the other end of the court, but missed the free throw and the chance to tie the game.
Stoughton made four straight free throws over the next 90 seconds to take a 66-61 lead before Hilger hit his aforementioned three-pointer, setting up the dramatic final seconds of play.
Stoughton's Joe Bunce-Grenon turned in a monster effort, with 23 points (including 9 of 12 from the free throw line) and 17 rebounds, 14 of which were on the defensive end, while adding 3 blocks.
Oliveira had 12 points and 10 rebounds; Sajous had 11 points and 6 rebounds; Middleton had 14 points; and Mike Gallagher and Joey Wilder each added 4 points.
Gallivan also praised the play of Matthew Mack.
"The stats might not show it, but I thought Matthew Mack did a great job when guys got into foul trouble," Gallivan said. "He came in and guarded their big scorer [Joe] Carty and did a nice job even though he was giving up probably six inches. He just bodied him and really gave us some quality minutes on both ends."
Much of Stoughton's roster was in foul trouble throughout the second half with a pair of players picking up three fouls and three more players getting two fouls each by halftime, but no one ended up fouling out.
Stoughton will look to climb over the .500 mark Sunday against a 2-2 Hingham squad.