Dramatic buzzer-beating baskets are often launched from afar, with the horn sounding as the ball plummets toward the hoop while a capacity crowd holds its collective breath.

When Zach Reali followed up a teammate’s missed shot in mid-February and scored from no more than two feet away, it was no less sudden and striking, considering the circumstances.

Immediately apparent, of course, was that Reali’s last-second basket gave Biddeford a 50-48 victory over Brunswick in the Class A South quarterfinals. The No. 2 Tigers won despite blowing an eight-point lead in the final three minutes.

Dig into the backstory, however, and Reali emerges as an unlikely but perfectly appropriate hero of Biddeford’s return to the regional semis for the first time since 2004 and only the third time in three decades.

“It’s probably one of the most significant plays Biddeford basketball has had, ever,” said fifth-year head coach Justin Tardif.

Indeed, Biddeford’s boys’ basketball program had been in the dumps, winning a total of two games over Tardif’s first three seasons. Reali was one of seven seniors whose first high school season saw the varsity go 1-17, while the freshman team went 4-9. Two years later, the Tigers improved to 8-10 and qualified for playoffs.

In early January of this year, Biddeford lost at Westbrook to fall to 5-3. With seven of their remaining 10 games on the road, a .500 season seemed a reasonable goal. Instead, the Tigers won all 10. They avenged losses to Falmouth and Westbrook and knocked off Scarborough, the top team in Class AA South.

“It all came together this year,” Tardif said. “We just took it to another level.”

The playoff opener was at the Portland Expo against Brunswick. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Reali fills in when starting center DeSean Cromwell needs a break, setting picks and snaring an occasional rebound. Reali plans to play football at Merrimack College as a tight end.

He is not the guy a coach would choose to take the last shot in a tight playoff basketball game.

The only reason Reali was even on the floor in the final minutes was because not only did Cromwell foul out, so did junior Cody Saucier.

“I was the next guy off the bench,” Reali said. “(Tardif) always emphasizes, ‘Be ready, whenever it’s your time.’ “

Almost immediately, Reali was fouled. With a minute to go, he made one of two free throws to put Biddeford up by four.

“That was really nerve-wracking,” he said. “I couldn’t even feel my arms.”

Brunswick scored, forced a turnover and scored again to tie with 35 seconds left. Instead of calling a timeout, Tardif trusted his team to take the last shot. Sure enough, Reali set a pick to spring Kyle Norton, who drove right and put up a shot that struck backboard and rim. Reali leaped, caught the rebound and gently flicked the ball into the basket before landing.

“I just heard everybody cheering and I was like, ‘Oh, gosh. Did that actually happen?’ My heart was racing so fast,” Reali said. “We were all jumping up and down. It was probably one of the best moments of my life, to be honest.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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