With 40 seconds remaining in their basketball game against the Harding Presidents, the Darien Blue Wave had seen a 15-point lead advantage evaporate and were in danger of having their first bid to secure a state tournament berth slip away.
Then a freshman stepped up and played the hero.
Miles Drake took a kick out pass from senior Peter Bredahl and calmly drained a three-pointer from the corner to put Darien back in front with 24 seconds to play, and the Wave held on to defeat Harding, 66-62, Monday night at DHS. Senior Will Rolapp hit two free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining to ice the win.
Drake, who scored a team-high 21 points, hit the shot from in front of the Darien bench with some encouragement from head coach Charoy Bentley.
“I heard Charoy in the back and he said ‘hit it’ so I just shot it and it went in,” Drake said with a smile. “I was feeling good before the game started, I got the ball in my hands and felt like I’ve got to make it. I shot it with confidence and it went in.”
“He’s doing a great job as a freshman,” Bentley said. “Not a lot of freshmen can step in to this position and play varsity right away. He’s taking big time shots and he’s hitting them.”
The victory was the fourth straight for Darien (8-9), which qualified for the CIAC Div. II tournament with three games remaining. The Wave has beaten Ludlowe, rival New Canaan, Staples, and now Harding in succession, and is playing its best ball of the season at the right time.
“We’re playing together more, we’ve started playing better defense and we’re working harder,” Drake said. “We’ve just been playing more as a team and it’s helping out.”
For Harding (4-13), the loss was tough to take after they had rallied from a 50-35 third-quarter deficit to take the lead twice in the fourth.
“That’s the one thing we get to take away is the fight and the determination, even to the point where we came back and took the lead,” Harding head coach John Bagley said. “It was only for a possession or two, but it was good and they needed that type of spirit and they found it in themselves. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
“This game is about runs,” said Bentley, a former star player for the Presidents. “They’re coached by a great coach, so I knew it was coming. We were able to keep our composure and make sure we got the job done.”
For Darien’s, Drake’s 21 points included 15 on five 3-pointers, and he scored eight straight points during the fourth quarter. Rolapp added 16 points, freshman Karson Drake had nine, and Bredahl scored eight.
Harding had a huge game from senior Markis Christie, who scored a game-high 23 points, all but two of which came during the second half. Christie netted 11 points in the third quarter and 10 in the fourth. Junior Marcell Robinson added 13 points, including nine straight overlapping the last two quarters.
The Wave took a 20-12 lead in the first quarter on the strength of five 3-pointers, including three from Miles Drake. That lead ballooned to 39-26 at halftime, and 50-35 midway through the third quarter.
The Presidents weren’t finished, however, and outscored the Wave 10-4 over the remainder of the third frame before opening the fourth on a 5-0 run. At one point, Harding reeled off 11 consecutive points, closing the gap to 54-50.
After Rolapp broke Darien’s slide, Christie came back with seven straight points, giving Harding a 57-56 lead on a lay-up with four minutes remaining.
“They were just playing harder than us,” Miles Drake said. “They were getting the 50-50 balls and we were just not getting back on defense or rebounding. They just out-worked us.”
Miles Drake answered with a pair of jump shots, including one from beyond the arc, to put the Wave back in front at 61-57 with less than two minutes to play.
Christie then nailed a three and, after a steal, Harding senior Isaiah Hanley scored for a 62-61 Presidents lead.
Karson Drake missed on two free throws, but Bredahl came up with the offensive rebound and fired a pass to the corner, and Mike Drake sank the 3-pointer for a 64-62 lead with 24 seconds on the clock.
Harding had a chance at the other end but missed and, during the ensuing scramble, sophomore Shawn Allen grabbed the ball and was called for traveling.
Rolapp then hit two free throws with 7.3 seconds to play to ice the game.
“Here it is at the end of the season and we have everything to fight for,” Bagley said of his Presidents. “This puts us in a spot where we’re probably out if it, but at the same time, the kids can take something home with them. I hope that they recognize that we have the potential to be better.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Miles Drake, Darien. The freshman led the Blue Wave with 21 points, including eight straight in the fourth quarter. Drake nailed five 3-point baskets, and his shot from the corner with 24 seconds to play gave Darien the lead for good at 64-62.
“We’re starting to get guys back and they’re very focused during practice. The captains are making sure everyone is really in tune, and we’re just taking it day by day, game by game. There’s no telling what can happen.” — Darien head coach Charoy Bentley
DARIEN 66, HARDING 62
Harding 12 14 19 17 – 62
Darien 20 19 15 12 – 66
Isaiah Hanley 3 0-0 6, Marcell Robinson 6 1-1 13, Xavier McBride 0 0-0 0, Corey Faison 2 0-0 5, Shawn Allen 1 0-0 2, Markis Christie 10 1-2 23, Joseph Gray 0 0-0 0, Qasim McKnight 4 0-0 8, Curry 2 0-2 5. Totals: 28 2-5 62
Will Rolapp 5 4-4 16, Peter Bredahl 3 0-1 8, Miles Drake 8 0-0 21, Ryan Darby 3 0-2 7, Al Aziz-Amir Preston 0 0-0 0, Karson Drake 3 3-6 9, Cole Anderson 2 0-0 5. Totals: 24 7-13 66
3-pointers: H – Christie 2, Faison, Curry; D – M. Drake 5, Rolapp 2, Bredahl 2, Anderson