BRANDON — The replica uniforms didn’t do the trick.
No matter that the House of Noise was overflowing as Otter Valley honored the 1961 Pittsford Panther state championship team, that the pep band rocked and that the student section cheered their hearts out.
It was not to be.
Mill River broke open an ultra-close, low-scoring game Friday with a strong stretch run to finish off Otter Valley 36-31 and win its fourth straight game. The Minutemen set the Otters back in the Division II pack, while climbing toward the top with the playoffs on the horizon.
Will Farwell, the hero of Thursday’s double overtime win over Fair Haven, was at it again. Farwell had a huge block of a twisting drive to the hoop by Pat McKeighan with the game tied at 26-26. And then Farwell followed that up with a drive to the hoop that gave Mill River a 28-26 lead. Farwell snared a rebound and put it back up and in to match Mill River’s biggest lead to that point, 30-26.
“We believe in each other,” said Farwell when asked how the Minutemen separated themselves from the Otters. “We’re playing good basketball and we play well together. This was a big win.”
The successive hoops by Farwell staked Mill River to a four-point lead with 1:05 remaining, giving the Minutemen the momentum down the stretch and also putting the Otters in a precarious position with the clock running down.
The Minutemen made it near impossible for the Otters to come back. An active Mill River defense held OV scoreless for over three minutes, and during that time Mill River went from a 26-24 deficit to a 34-26 lead before Dylan Mackie got the Otters off the mat with a driving layup and an old fashioned three-point play.
The problem was that there was only 14 seconds remaining and OV could only manage another layup by Mackie while the Minutemen put the game away when Cole Aines sank a pair of foul shots.
“I said at the beginning that I felt our team had a real high ceiling; because we’re young our ceiling was higher than some of the other teams,” Mill River coach Jack Rogers said. “We have won these last four games without our point guard (Aidan Botti, out with a fractured wrist), so we’ve done it with a point guard committee. We have just gained a whole lot more composure and we’ve gotten great leadership down the stretch.”
Will Grabowski paced the Minutemen with 11, while Farwell added eight and Aines seven. Mill River improved to 11-5.
This was a low-scoring grinder. Through the first three quarters, the biggest lead by either team was 19-15 for Mill River at 3:30 of the third.
The game was back and forth with 11 lead changes and one deadlock.
Otter Valley tried to shorten the game, be patient and keep the ball away from the Minutemen. It looked as though the Otters found something with McKeighan going to the hoop. He converted inside hoops on three straight trips down the floor but then the Otters went away from him and went scoreless for three minutes.
“We find something that works and then get away from it,” Otter coach Greg Hughes said. “They played a great game and we played their game.”
Mackie led the 10-7 Otters with 10 points, McKeighan added nine and Tyler Rowe eight.
Mill River tangles with visiting Rutland next Tuesday, while the Otters travel to Fair Haven next Friday.