HACKETTSTOWN -- Tyler Gorczyca didn’t even seem likely to play for Hackettstown in the final round of the Hunterdon Warren Sussex Tournament.


The star Hackettstown guard, who was coming off a 27-point performance against Phillipsburg in the HWS semifinals last weekend, injured his knee in Hackettstown’s game this week against Newark East Side. Tigers head coach Mike McDonagh began Gorczyca on the bench to begin the game, but inserted him about halfway through the first quarter.


He proved healthy enough to play the majority of the minutes. McDonagh estimated he was playing at about 60 %.


“Before the game started, I didn’t even think he was going to play,” McDonagh said. “To have him on the court was a bonus. Was he at full speed or strength? No. It was good enough where he could still compete and do some things.”


As it ended up, it was Gorczyca at the free throw line with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Hackettstown down by one point to Hunterdon Central, 42-41. This is a senior who has been through all the battles, including winning Hackettstown a sectional title in soccer last year with the only goal of the game.


Unfortunately for Gorczyca and the Tigers, it wasn’t a storybook ending this time. He hit one of two free throws to send the game into overtime, but the Tigers came up short in a 55-48 loss to Hunterdon Central in the HWS finals on Friday at Centenary University.


“We had two defensive lapses in the last minute,” McDonagh said. “We had a drive and a perfect spot to take a charge, and we didn’t take it. Those are the little things that I talk about. They’re a very good team. We weathered the storm. My guys played hard. I’m very happy with the effort.”


This is a game that will be remembered for the toughness that Hackettstown has displayed all year during its magical run. Gorczyca played on his injured knee, the Tigers overcame nine-point deficit after the third quarter and Jalen Baptiste took a charge with 27 seconds remaining to get the Tigers the ball back for a chance to win. All of those things proved that grit as Hackettstown hung tough with a large Group 4 school.


In the third quarter, Hackettstown could not buy a basket. Gorczyca sat out about half of it with foul trouble while Shawn Morgan’s usually reliant jumper left him. The result was just one made field goal as Hunterdon Central took a halftime tie and made a 36-27 lead after three quarters.


Morgan got back on track to begin the fourth by coming off a screen to hit a 3-pointer. It was his first of three straight field goals for the Tigers. He scored a transition bucket before pulling up seemingly from Hackettstown High School to hit a deep 3-pointer that cut Hunterdon Central’s lead to 37-34 about three minutes into the final quarter.


With 3:54 remaining in regulation, P.J. O’Hara tied the game, 38-38, on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off a drive-and-kick from Morgan. The Tigers were never able to regain the lead in regulation and did not tie the game until Gorczyca’s free throw with six seconds remaining. After Hackettstown was held to just a single field goal in the third quarter, it returned the favor and held the Red Devils to just one field goal in the fourth quarter.


“We finally locked down into people defensively,” McDonagh said. “There are a couple of guys you can come off of. Every team has a couple. We knew who they were, so we came off them and tried to help. I really wish we were 100 % tonight.”


After O’Hara scored on an inbounds play to put Hackettstown ahead, 47-46, in the overtime, Matthew Cizkowski scored on a drive with 1:47 remaining that gave the Red Devils the lead for good. Hackettstown will now turn its attention to the state tournament next week as the No. 1 seed in North 2, Group 2, hopefully with a more healthy Gorczyca.


“They’re all great gamers,” McDonagh said. “We’ve been down a lot this year, so being down a bunch of points is not a big deal for us. We’ve gone through adversity with that. We’ve weathered the storm. We have great heart. I’m very proud of my guys.”


HC;11;13;12;6;13; -- 55


H;11;13;2;15;6; -- 48


Hunterdon Central: Tyler Cassella 6, Joseph Sei 5, Eric Molto 12, Brian Johansson 12, Charles Gillikin 11, Matt Ciszkowski 9


Hackettstown: Tyler Gorczyca 7, Jalen Baptiste 6, Ryan O’Melia 2, Shawn Morgan 17, Tyler Kirkpatrick 5, Patrick O’Hara 6, Michael D’Aconti 5


Records: Hunterdon Central 18-8, Hackettstown 21-4