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By Richard Taylor
One point six seconds left. One strategy, one set, one inbound pass, one pump fake, one shot, one last clock tick, one final buzzer, one swish.
All that equaled “Mason’s Miracle” and led to instant pandemonium in “the Tank,” the Ocracoke School gym, on Saturday, propelling the Dolphins 57-56 consolation game win over Gateway Christian Academy in Ocracoke High School’s Eighth Annual Holiday Basketball Scholarship Tournament.
The Dolphins started the game strong, 5-0, and held a narrow three-point advantage, 46-43, at the beginning of the fourth period. But, as has been their fate of late, the team quickly fell behind by five points before Kalai Samick tied the game, 51-51, with two free throws.
Subsequent missed shots and turnovers found the Dolphins trailing Gateway 56-54, with a little under 20 seconds left in the game.
Quick thinking, strategic play-calling and judicious use of timeouts by Coach David Allewalt still gave Ocracoke hope as the clock ticked down.
The Dolphins had no choice but to send the Crusaders to the foul line, hoping they would miss their shots. Gateway obliged, missing the front-end of one-and-ones, not once, but twice.
The Dolphins still had a chance.
After Samick turned the ball over by stepping on the baseline under his own basket, Allewalt called a full timeout with 11:4 left to talk over defensive strategy. Perry Austin quickly fouled a trapped Darius Woods in the corner with 9:7 seconds left. Ocracoke still had a foul to give, so Gateway could not go to the line yet. Mason Fuller then reached in to foul Gateway’s six-foot, one-inch senior Isaiah Hanley with 8:1 seconds remaining.
Hanley missed the front end of his one-and-one. The partisan home crowd screamed approval. After he picked up the loose ball, Crusader guard Antonio Simmons was immediately fouled by Dolphin Sam Evans, who fouled out with two points.
Simmons missed the front end of his one-and-one attempt. Ocracoke got the rebound with only 5:4 seconds left.
As the Dolphins brought the ball towards center court, Allewalt saw a Crusaders’ defensive setup he did not like and immediately called Ocracoke’s last timeout, to set up a “catch-and-shoot” play for the Dolphins’ final shot.
Standing only two steps from dozens of Dolphin fans at courtside, Samick was poised with confidence from Allewalt’s instructions as he took the ball from the referee and looked to throw the ball into play,
Radio announcer Bill Cole, “the voice of the Dolphins,” set the scene on Ocracoke’s Community Radio WOVV 90.1 FM as those final two seconds ticked away:
“Perry, Reese, Mason and Dylan all around the box,” Cole said. “Looks like they’re going to go for two-point shot. Here comes Kalai with the throw-in. Nobody’s guarding the basketball. Screen set. Reese curls up. He’s looking in the corner.
“It’s in to Mason. He’ll take the three-point shot. It’s good! The shot is good! Mason Fuller hits the shot, and the Dolphins come out on this one victorious, 57 to 56!
“There’s a mob scene on the floor. All the players get out to congratulate Mason! He hits a three from NBA range! What a game! What a shot! You cannot ask for a better basketball game! I feel for the Gateway Crusaders. They played well to crawl back into this one.
“But the Dolphins’ had fortitude to come back in and hit that shot! The Dolphins are victorious on a buzzer-beater by Mason Fuller! Put it on the board 57-56, Dolphins come away with a consolation game win!
“Wow, one of my better calls,” Cole concluded. “That’s why they play a full 32 minutes of basketball!”
Allewalt recalled those last few seconds soon after the tournament’s award presentations.
“We ran a set,” he said. “When we got the ball on the sideline down here, they came out man-to-man, so I called another time out.”
“I told the team that if they don’t come out in man-to-man, let’s just run the ball down the sideline and call another time out, so we can get a set,” he explained. “We had a triple screen set for the baseline. They picked it up and called it out. I had the third person setting a screen, but it was Mason who came off the screen and popped out to the wing. He was open, made a good pump fake and made the shot.”
Allewalt said he thought the Dolphins shouldn’t have gotten to that point.
“We were up by 12 mid-way through the third quarter when we started putting pressure on them,” he said. “They got us going. They were resilient. They climbed back in the game. At the end of the game we needed one extra possession to win it and that’s what we did.”
The Dolphins might never have reached that storybook winning position at game’s end had sophomore Christian Trejo not grabbed an offensive rebound and laid in a quick basket as time expired in the second period, giving Ocracoke a three-point halftime lead.
Cellphone video by JV coach Blackburn Warner captured those exciting final 1:6 seconds, showing the game-ending buzzer sounding milliseconds after the ball had cleared the outstretched right fingers of Fuller’s shooting hand.
Momentary silence gripped the gym, as all eyes strained to see Fuller’s pressure-packed shot spin towards the hoop. The basketball seemed to float forever in slow motion as it approached the net.
That final fling found its mark with a nearly silent swish — nothing but net. Fuller had done it, following Allewalt’s plan to perfection.
The gym exploded in joyous celebration.
The four other Dolphin players on the floor — Reese Gaskins, Dylan Esham, Austin and Samick hugged, high-fived and fist-bumped each other and, of course, Fuller.
Four Dolphins from the bench, including the injured Colby Austin, quickly joined the celebration. Mason’s Miracle was a fait accompli.
Allewalt played all nine Dolphins, substituting often, as he usually does. Perry Austin led the team with 20 points. Fuller had 15. Due to a torn oblique, Senior Colby Austin will not play until the next home game, Jan. 4 against Hatteras.
Gateway played the entire game with only their starters — Jordan Francis, Isaiah Hanley, Mark Sanchez, Antonio Simmons and Darius Woods. Hanley led Gateway with 21, including five three-pointers in the third period.
In other tournament games, Gateway’s Lady Mariners beat the Cape Hatteras Hurricanes, 61-19, for the girls’ championship. The Hurricanes received a bye into Saturday’s game, since Ocracoke did not field a girls’ team this year.
Finally, the Whiteville Wolfpack dominated the boys’ championship, easily crushing East Carteret Mariners 61-29. The Mariners had easily beaten the Dolphins in Friday night’s first round, 59-36. The Dolphins had started that game strong, leading 16-13 after the first period, but could not field their shots after that.
Whiteville brought a good contingent over on the Cedar Island ferry for their first trip to the island.
Coach Jerry Singletary’s “Boys from Bladen” thrilled the crowd with their skilled passing, numerous defensive rebounds and fast breaks and their overall excellent shooting.
Whiteville’s power forward senior, Cameron Richardson, won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Male Player award.
Lady Mariner Monica Dixon of East Carteret picked up an engraved silver plate as the Most Valuable Female Player.
Hatteras senior captain Morgan Fairbanks won the tournament’s $2,000 scholarship prize, sponsored by the Ocracoke School Boosters and SmacNally’s Waterfront Bar and Grill.
Now offered for the second year, the scholarship acknowledges the dedication, discipline and fortitude it takes to be a student athlete.
Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole was very impressed by Wolfpack basketball and continued island support for the tournament.
“Congratulations to Whiteville,” she said after the game. “Oh my gosh, they were a well-coached team for sure. It was a great tournament with a great turnout.”
Cole also praised the small Christian school from Virginia Beach for coming back every year since the tournament’s inception by Allewalt and then-principal Walt Padgett eight years ago.
“Gateway has been invited back every year,” she reflected. “They are stellar players, both on and off the court. We are happy to have them back.”
Cole also gave a big shout out to Allewalt for creating the tournament as a way to bring regional attention to Ocracoke basketball.
“This is his baby; he started it,” she said. “He is it. He handles it all. He does a great job and puts a lot of time into getting this going, year in and year out. If it wasn’t for him, this tournament would not happen.”
News of “Mason’s Miracle” quickly traveled around the island by word-of-mouth and social media. Ocracoke United Methodist Church Pastor Richard Bryant even mentioned the game in his Sunday morning sermon.
“You want to know what good high school basketball looks like?” Bryant preached from the pulpit. “This is it. That shot is it.”