"It was meat and potatoes at the end," Jefferson coach Bob Starkey. "The key of the game was the two straight times they couldn't get the ball in in the last 6.5 seconds, especially since they took a timeout to set up a play the second time."
Jefferson turned up the defense in the fourth quarter, effectively taking Hedgesville's hot-shooting Michael Lopez out of the mix and holding the Eagles to four points in the final 9 minutes to pull off the win.
The Cougars decided to go for the last shot after Luke Grunseth's layup put the Eagles into a 46-46 tie with 55 seconds remaining. Jefferson milked the clock to :09, but threw the ball away on the final move to the basket.
Hedgesville (11-6) took a timeout with the ball out in the baseline corner with 6.5 seconds remaining. The Cougars' defense fronted the Eagles on the inbounds play, forcing Hedgesville to call time again to avoid a 5-second call.
The Eagles tried again, but were called for five-seconds without inbounding the ball, turning it over to the Cougars with 6.5 seconds still remaining.
"We didn't get the ball in," Hedgesville coach Kelly Church said. "That is solely, 100 percent Coach Church's responsibility. I let the team down. With 6 seconds left, we didn't just want to get the ball in. We were going the length of the floor to win it. We practice a lot of different things, but it's my fault we didn't get it in."
After taking a timeout, Jefferson went for the win. Ryland Newman tried to get the ball inside, but passed to the corner. Dewey McDonald made a move but shot long with 3 seconds remaining. Hester leaped on the weak side, only to catch and release his last-gasp effort in one motion to swish the winning basket.
"The play was set up to be an oop, but it went outside," Hester said. "I knew I didn't have much time when I got it and just threw it up. I never thought I would be taking a shot like that. ... I never thought I would be taking it here, especially the way the game started out."
"We got a good shot," Starkey said. "We started out running an inside play, but we ended up having to go with the second option."
The game began with all the makings of a horse race before it ended in a fox trot.
Jefferson came out firing as Justin Grantham scored eight points in the first 2 minutes - including two 3s - to lead the Cougars to a 10-0 lead. The hot shooting continued after Hedgesville called time as Lopez began to ignite the Eagles' comeback.
Hedgesville drew within 21-14 after a foul-less first quarter, despite being outscored 12-6 from behind the arc.
Lopez came up huge in the second period, hitting three of his six 3s - including a halfcourt heave on the buzzer - to bring Hedgesville back into contention at 30-28 at the intermission.
The game turned into a chess match in the second half as the Eagles moved to a 39-34 lead, led by two more 3s and a three-shot foul situation by Lopez.
From there, Jefferson turned up the man defense, forcing Lopez to give up the ball and denying him from getting it back. Still, Hedgesville held a 42-38 lead after three quarters.
The first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter were scoreless, which played to Jefferson's advantage since Newman was on the bench with four fouls. When he returned with 3:24 remaining, McDonald hit a 3 to give Jefferson a 43-42 lead.
Denver Effland hit a pair of foul shots for Hedgesville, countered by a Newman power move to the hoop and a foul shot by Grantham for a 46-44 Jefferson lead before Grunseth's layup tied the game for the final dramatics.
Lopez's game-high 21 points and Effland's 13 went by the wayside to Jefferson's balanced attack. Grantham had 13 points and Hester finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds as the Cougars continue to play without leading scorer Josh Brown.
"The Cougars are wounded, but they aren't dead," Starkey said.