DOBBS FERRY, N.Y.--For the GFA boys basketball team, the third time was not the charm.
Instead, the Dragons met the same fate that they did the first two times they squared off with the Masters School: A hard-fought loss that wasn't decided until the final seconds ticked down.
GFA's quest for back-to-back Fairchester Athletic Association tournament titles ended as Masters defeated the Dragons 61-56 in the championship game at home on Saturday afternoon. The tournament title was the second in school history for the Panthers, according to head coach Matt Kammrath.
"It was going to be a tightly contested game," Dragons coach Doug Scott said. "It came down to who made more shots. It's that simple sometimes."
Jim Djema and Zach Baines each had 18 points for the Dragons, while Sunday Okeke added 14. Three of GFA's four losses this season have come to the same team.
"Knowing you're playing against one of the best teams in the league, and one of the best teams in the C division of the NEPSAC gets our guys focused and gets them up for the game," Kammrath said. "We are always talking about exploiting matchups."
The crucial play came with one minute left on the clock and the game tied at 56. With the shot clock at five and the Panthers inbounding, GFA snuffed out the planned in-bound play. However, Max Ishmael (15 points) popped open just in time and hit a 3-pointer to give Masters the lead.
Ishmael -- who hit a game-tying 3-pointer late in regulation in Masters' 61-57 overtime win over the Dragons Jan. 27 that snapped GFA's 27-game winning streak -- hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to seal the championship.
"We know Sunday was playing way off Max, and we told him to go sprint out to the 3-point line as a bailout," Kammrath said. "His teammates trusted him, and he had the confidence because he had done it before; he stepped up in a clutch situation."
GFA held Masters' top threat Mike Jurzynski, who scored 30 in the Panthers' semifinal win, to four points. The combination of Matt Tate and Okeke kept him at bay, but the other Panthers answered the bell.
"We shut down their superstar," Scott said. "Matt Tate is an unbelievable defender and kept a good grip on (Jurzynski)."
The Panthers jumped out to a 14-4 lead, but the Dragons battled back to take a halftime lead. Djema hit a 3-pointer off the backboard with seconds left in the first half to break a 32-32 tie. The Dragons increased the lead after halftime and led by as many as 11 with 13 minutes to play.
The Dragons missed Andrew Chase through injury, shortening an already short rotation. The starters -- Tate, Baines, Okeke, Djema and Brendan Bieder -- played virtually the entire contest less than 24 hours after going the distance in the semifinals against St. Luke's Saturday.
"That's a lot of minutes, a lot of fouls and a little less fatigue; maybe a couple more shots go in," Scott said. "It makes a difference. It's the issue with being the smallest school in our league; we don't really have deep numbers."
The Dragons will now prepare for the New England Class C tournament, which begins Wednesday. GFA is the No. 1 seed for the tournament.
Masters 61, GFA 56
GFA 35 21 -- 56
MASTERS 32 29 -- 61
MASTERS (18-6, 15-2 FAA)
Isiah Hayden 6 3-4 18 Mike Jurzynski 1 2-2 4 Max Ishmael 5 3-6 15 Josh Bunch 5 0-0 11 Brandon Randolph 5 0-0 13. Totals: 22 8-12 61.
GFA (19-4, 14-3)
Brendan Bieder 0 0-0 0 Matt Tate 2 0-0 6 Jimmy Djema 6 2-2 18 Zach Baines 7 4-5 18 Sunday Okeke 7 0-1 14. Totals: 22 6-8 56.
3-pointers: GFA --Tate 2, Djema 4; M -- Hayden 3, Ishmael 2, Bunch, Randolph 2.