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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Justin Cooper puts himself in the same predicament every day at practice. It’s how he practices his free throws, pretending to be at the foul line with Pine Plains trailing by a point late in the fourth quarter of the state championship.
Cooper’s premonitions played out almost exactly on Friday as he’s always imagined countless times.
The results were the same, too.
The Pine Plains senior hit a two go-ahead free throws with 20 seconds remaining in the Class C state semifinal as the Bombers scored the final eight points in a 52-49 victory at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“When we shoot free throws every day, I think about this moment,” Cooper said. “To have this moment, to actually hit them, it feels even better.”
Cooper had 18 points, including six straight free throws in the final 90 seconds, to go along with 13 rebounds and three assists. Tyler Lydon had 10 points and 16 boards, Adam Miller had 10 and nine and Zach Lydon had 10 and eight.
The Bombers (21-2) advanced to their first ever state title game on Saturday. They’ll play either Moravia (Section 4) or Lake George (Section 2) at 7:15 p.m. at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“We’ve been saying it all year: mental toughness,” Pine Plains coach Brendan LoBrutto said. “You can’t win a state championship without having mental toughness and they showed it. I think that was the difference.”
Pine Plains enters the final sporting some black and blues after a physical second half against Silver Creek, capped by a wild final possession. The Black Knights hit a game-tying half-court shot with four seconds left but it was waved off because they were fouled before the shot.
“When I saw that shot go up, I said ‘Damn that better not go in,” Cooper said. “But then the ref said no basket and it felt great.”
With Silver Creek inbounding under its own basket with five seconds left, LoBrutto instructed his team to let the clock run down and then foul to prevent a 3-point attempt.
“That’s why you foul there,” LoBrutto said. “I have that New Ro buzzer-beater seared into my mind. We were up three and we had six fouls, so they’d have to shoot a one-and-one. And it worked.
“I told the guys that if that foul situation didn’t work out, I would have moved to Florida.”
Arguably the biggest play of the night was on defense for the Bombers. After Cooper’s free throws put Pine Plains up 50-49, Silver Creek had a 3-pointer miss and got the rebound. Miller, though, stepped up and blocked a put-back attempt. It resulted in a jump ball and Pine Plains possession.
Miller hit two free throws on the ensuing possession to help close it out.
The game took a physical toll on the Bombers, who hadn’t been in many games that rough all season.
“Besides Marlboro, no,” Cooper said. “They were one of the most physical teams we played all year and the refs let us play.”
Pine Plains led most of the first half and took a 29-22 lead into the break. Silver Creek, though, used a 18-4 to open the third run to build a cushion. Pine Plains trailed by as many as seven in the fourth quarter before closing the game with an 11-1 run.
“We knew we had eight minutes left and eight minutes is a lot of time in a basketball game,” Cooper said. “We were fighting the whole game and weren’t getting a lot of calls. It feels great to still come out on top.”
Email Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org