TOWNSEND -- No quit.
A 10-3 run to open the fourth quarter was the spark the North Middlesex Regional boys' basketball team needed, as the No. 4 Patriots came from behind to knock off No. 5 South Hadley, 53-47, in a Western Mass. Division 2 quarterfinal at Bartlett Gymnasium Friday night.
The win lifts North Middlesex to 10-10 and the Patriots move on to the Western Mass. semifinals, where they will bring Drew Patno, Tyler Thomas, Richie Sharp, et al. and the fabled Trench cheering section to the campus of UMass Amherst and the ancestral home of Western Mass. basketball, the Curry Hicks Cage. North Middlesex is slated to take on top-seeded Longmeadow (18-2) in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The season of South Hadley, which had led for two-plus quarters, came to its completion at 14-7.
The Tigers -- who were the defending Western Mass. D2 champs before knocking off St. Bernard's in the state semifinal -- had scored the last four points of the third quarter with Nathaniel Flachs (game-high 17 points) scoring with less than a second remaining, giving the tourists from the far side of the Quabbin Reservoir a seven-point, 36-29 lead going into the fourth.
That's where North Middlesex took over, and took over hard.
"We talked at halftime about coming out and playing a decent third quarter," said longtime North Middlesex head coach Erik Dellasanta. "We did, but unfortunately they hit a bucket at the end so we're still down seven.
Mark Rossi opened the fourth with a big 3-pointer at the elbow in front of the Trench before Thomas (team-high 16 points) closed the gap to within two, 36-34, thanks to a layup preceded by a little hop, skip and a jump to the hoop.
Then, at the other end, Bobby Larsen (15 points, 6 rebounds) came up with a nasty rejection before the Pats came the other way. Larsen calmly buried a 16-footer to tie the game at 36-up.
Thomas Fitzell (8 points) then hit a 3-pointer to restore South Hadley's lead, and Thomas muscled his way to the basket before releasing a floater to make it 39-38, Tigers.
A trip later, Thomas was fouled, and he hit the back end of two to re-knot the score.
Fitzell hit two from the line on the next trip, before Patno (10 points, 11 rebounds) canned a rainbow trey in front of the North Middlesex bench with 4:40 left to give the hosts the lead for good.
"(Both 3's) were monstrous, and timely," Dellasanta said. "Big players make big shots in big games, and to knock that one down for Drew was him being a big-time player right there."
Ninety seconds later, Thomas ripped a driving layup to push North Middlesex's lead to three. It was a one-point lead, 45-44, after Cameron Earle (11 points) hit a trey from the top of the key, but Patno came back with a driving floater from the side that touched three parts of the rim before crashing through the cylinder to put the hosts up 47-44.
A minute later, Thomas, who played with four fouls for the fourth, spun in the paint and laid it up with the right hand to give North Middlesex a four-point, 49-45 lead.
"That was a first-class bucket," Dellasanta said. "We needed a bucket to stretch it a bit, and he made an A-plus move."
Sharp blocked the Tigers on the next trip, but Earle, after the ensuing inbound, scored a layup with 30 ticks remaining.
And after Thomas hit a free throw with 24 seconds left, South Hadley's Fitzell clanged a 3-point attempt off the back of the iron and into the arms of Sharp, who was immediately fouled.
He hit the first of two to seal it, before Griffin Fitzell's 3-point attempt, too, went off the back of the iron. Thomas was fouled on the rebound, and he hit both to round out the scoring with .7 seconds remaining.
North Middlesex was 8 of 14 from the field in the fourth quarter. South Hadley, on the other hand, was 5 of 20 in the second half, and 3 of 12 in the fourth.
The Tigers had taken full command early in the second quarter, as they went to the line four times in 2:24. In that time, South Hadley was 7 of 9 from the foul line and turned a slim, 15-14 deficit into a 21-15 edge.
Austin Ford's 20-foot trey with less than a minute left in the half sent the Tigers into the break leading 26-18.
North Middlesex shot 2 of 11 in the second quarter.
"We had to bring our best tonight," Dellasanta said. "South Hadley is disciplined, strong, defensive-minded, and all the things they do, they put us in a place where we had to play real well. We had to earn it tonight."
Follow Sean Sweeney on Twitter @MrSeanMSweeney