In the delirium that followed American Heritage’s improbable come-from-behind victory against Dillard in the District 16-5A semifinals, Justin Massey sought out the birthday girl he dedicated his heroic effort to and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Wanetta Massey and her son then shared a warm embrace as Heritage players, fans and coaches whooped it up on the Archbishop McCarthy floor on Friday.
"This is my mom’s birthday, I wanted to win this for her," said Justin Massey, who finished with 16 points.
Wanetta Massey glowed with pride after Justin Massey converted the winning two free throws with 13.4 seconds left as Class 5A No. 2 Heritage (20-6) stormed back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and stunned Dillard 68-67.
The Patriots will face No. 3 Cardinal Gibbons, which held off No. 7 Archbishop McCarthy 58-55 in the late semifinal.
No. 4 Dillard (17-6) appeared well on its way to taking the season series 2-1 and sending the Patriots home after Keon Farrington converted a layup for a 59-45 lead with 5:57 remaining.
Up until that point Dillard was rolling behind sharp shooter Tyson Grace, who was in a zone and finished with 24 points, 6-6 power forward Cedric Wright (18 points) and Farrington (17 points).
Any early plans Dillard might have made for the regional quarterfinals, however, changed with a 17-3 Heritage blitz that brought Dillard and Patriots fans to the edge of their seats for the remainder of the game.
Following a pair of free throws by Heritage guard Keyshawn Evans, Justin Massey ignited the spark with a steal off an inbounds pass, converted back to back baskets before Evans. ice cold through three quarter nailed a three-pointer from the right wing to pull the Patriots within 64-62 with 3:22 left.
"I’m a senior, I wasn’t going to let this be my last game," Justin Massey said. "Just the pride in my team, the trust in my team. I never doubted it. We changed our intensity. We started our pressure on them in the fourth quarter and it got to them.".
Jason Massey, Justin’s twin, had a game-high 17 points, Evans had 14 points and Drake Lamont added 11 points for the Patriots, who have kept their bid for a third consecutive Final Four appearance alive.
“This is huge,’’ Lamont said. "We were down by 14 double digits. We kept telling ourselves. one possession at a time and we are going to fight back and win this game. There was no way we were going home today. We played them before and beat them before. We knew if we kept playing, that eventually things would work out and we would get a "W" tonight."
Even after blowing what appeared to be an insurmountable lead, Dillard still led 67-64 with 1:39 left after Grace converted one of two free throws.
Down the stretch, however, Dillard had two huge miscues - a turnover and then a rushed missed shot that left the door open for Heritage.
Evans converted two free throws after sneaking in for an offensive rebound to pull Heritage within 67-66, setting the stage for Justin Massey to hit the winning free throws after being fouled on a layup attempt.
Cardinal Gibbons star guard Jose Morales set up the American-Heritage final by taking charge down the stretch.
Morales (16 points, seven assists, five steals) found Josh Charles for layup for a 53-50 lead with 2:18 left, then converted a layup with 43.5 seconds left to break a 57-55 tie.
Archbishop had a chance to go ahead after Greg Kacprzak missed two free throws but David Moya missed back-to-back shots and Rafael Diaz’s desperation three-point attempt as the buzzer sounded fell short, sealing the Chiefs’ matchup against American Heritage in the District 16-6A championship game on Saturday. Richard McIntosh added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Melvin Brooks had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Moya led a valiant effort for the Mavericks (19-6) with 15 points, Brady McBride added 11 points.