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Papa's clutch free throw lifts Spartans past Charter, 36-35

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WILMINGTON – St. Mark’s and Charter School went toe-to-toe throughout Tuesday afternoon’s game, so it was only fitting that the matchup came down to the final seconds. Nick Papa made sure St. Mark’s went home happy as he hit one of two free throws with 6.1 seconds to lift the Spartans to a 36-35 road win over the Force.

Papa was fouled as St. Mark’s was trying to inbound the ball following a timeout. Since the ball had not yet been put into play, the infraction was called an intentional foul, giving Papa two free throws and possession back to St. Mark’s. Papa missed the first attempt but was true on the second. The game, however, was far from over.

St. Mark’s inbounded the ball following the made free throw and was immediately fouled by Charter. But since that was just the fourth team foul on the Force, they had to foul Spartans players twice more before St. Mark’s was in the bonus and went to the free throw line. When Charter finally committed its seventh foul, the clock was down to 2.7 seconds and Papa was on the line again.

He missed and Charter got the rebound, calling timeout with 1.5 seconds and 94 feet to go. The Force inbounded the ball to half court, then found a player beyond the three-point line foul line extended left. His desperation shot was far off the mark, although the referees signaled it had come after the buzzer anyway, and the Spartans were able to exhale.

Papa said he likes shooting free throws with no other players lining the key. “It makes it like practice. I’m usually a good free-throw shooter. I thought I was going to make ’em.”

This was a tight contest throughout, as St. Mark’s led by a point at the half and two after three quarters. After the Force tied the game at 30 on the first score of the final quarter, St. Mark’s scored the next five on a three-pointer by Daniel Campbell and a layup from Papa on a rebound of another missed trey. Charter stormed back to tie it again with 4:30 to go. The only point the rest of the way was Papa’s winning free throw.

St. Mark’s finishes the regular season 13-6 with the win, which came after consecutive losses to the state’s top two teams, Salesianum and Sanford. The Spartans will now wait to find out where they finish in the tournament point standings and where they will be playing when tourney play opens next week. This was a key victory, Papa said.

“We lost our last two, so it was great to win right before the playoffs. It gives us momentum. It was a nice win,” he said.

Papa and Carl DiStefano led St. Mark’s with nine points apiece. Charter’s Nolan Shannon had 10 points in a losing cause. The Force (11-8) will travel to Delcastle Thursday for its regular-season finale. Game time is 5:30 p.m.

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