HARRISONBURG — Marcus Carter will always remember his 17th birthday.
The Bruton High junior guard scored a game-high 20 points during a 59-57 victory over Handley in a Group AA Division 3 state quarterfinal at James Madison University's Convocation Center.
But Carter watched the final four-tenths of a second with a few anxious breaths. Bruton led 52-41 with 2:31 left and looked to have the game well in hand.
The Judges' Solomon Finley sank a desperation 3-pointer from the right corner, and then Jake Rudolph buried a 20-footer to cut the lead to 53-49. Soon afterward, Buster Wigley followed with a three-point play and Handley's Tre Brown added a layup to cut the lead to 59-57 with 11.2 seconds left.
On the next inbounds play, Rudolph intercepted a bounce pass in the lane. After a mild scramble, Carter fouled Finley on the right block with just four-tenths of a second left with a chance to tie the game.
That was Carter's fifth foul, so he had to watch the rest of the game from the bench. Findlay's first free throw bounced off the front of the rim. After a timeout, Finley tried to intentionally miss the second one, but was whistled for a lane infraction to give Bruton possession.
Bruton's Kapri Doucet inbounded the ball to Mike Sangalang to run out the clock.
"It was a typical Bruton basketball game," Panthers coach Joe Dillard said with a smile. "The kids played their heart and souls out and really stepped up tonight. Sometimes our kids react better when they are challenged, and tonight they were challenged."
The Panthers advanced to Tuesday's 1 p.m. semifinal at VCU's Siegel Center against Spotswood, a Shenandoah Valley team that defeated Martinsville 61-44 Saturday night.
Bruton started slowly, missing its first nine shots from the field. Handley took advantage of the cold shooting, getting easy looks in transition. Cameron Jackson had two layups off misses, and Brown, a point guard, had five points and three assists as the Judges built a 14-4 lead after one quarter.
Finley opened the second quarter with back-to-back buckets, and Will Dearing added a pair of free throws as Handley took its biggest lead at 20-8 with 5:42 left in the half.
The Judges quickly got in foul trouble as their two post options, Jackson and Darion Robinson, went to the bench with two fouls. Bruton capitalized with a 9-0 spurt to trim the lead to 20-17.
Doucet led the charge with four points and hit Sangalang on a pick-and-pop. Carter added five straight points, including a trey from the left wing to pull Bruton within 22-20 with 1:23 left in the half.
Handley coach Tom Dixon re-inserted Jackson and Robinson into the lineup and his team regained momentum. Robinson closed the half with five straight points, including a three-point play with 3.6 seconds left, to give Handley a 27-20 halftime advantage.
Bruton (20-5) went to work in the third quarter, thanks to clutch perimeter shooting. Lonnie Swinton, who missed most of the first half with two fouls, erupted for eight points, including a 3-pointer from the right corner off an out-of-bounds play to tie the game at 37 at the third-quarter buzzer.
The Panthers pulled ahead in the fourth quarter. Bilal Wallace scored six points during a 15-4 spurt to give Bruton its biggest lead at 52-41.
"This was a tough one," Dixon said. "We prepared for everything that they did to us out there, but I guess I didn't prepare them enough."
BRUTON 59, HANDLEY 57
BRUTON (19-5): Swinton 8, Rice 3, Simmons 7, Carter 20, Wallace 6, Doucet 13, Sangalang 2.
HANDLEY (21-4): Brown 7, Rudolph 6, Robinson 11, Finley 12, Wigley 9, Dearing 2, Jackson 10.
Bruton 4 16 17 22 – 59
Handley 14 13 10 20 – 57