Dec 23, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Todd Widrick had heard the talk as his Cazenovia boys basketball team roared out to a 7-0 start.
“(People told us) that you aren’t nothing until you beat Westhill,” said Widrick. “We have to go through them to have a good season.”
And after seven futile tries to beat the team he once coached, Widrick and his Lakers finally found some satisfaction Friday night, toppling the two-time defending Section III Class B champion Warriors 61-47 in front of a loud and raucous gathering at Buckley Gym.
Everyone on the Cazenovia side understood what this victory meant.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said senior point guard Tom Eschen, amid a happy throng of students on the court at game’s end.
With first place in the OHSL Liberty division at stake, the Lakers had all the advantages, from the cozy and intimate support of its home crowd to an opponent now working with less than a full deck.
A week prior to the game, junior Dale Ross, arguably his team’s best player, left the team to focus on his football future. Dan Ross, a talented but raw freshman, took his spot in the starting lineup.
Even if Dale was present, though, it might not have mattered. After allowing the game’s first five points, the Lakers took over in every phase of the game.
Eschen, the team’s defensive specialist, had a lot to do with it. Despite his 5-11 stature, he locked onto Westhill’s 6-3 forward, Jim Ross, and made him fight hard for every inch of court space.
By halftime, Eschen also was cleaning up in other phases of the game, piling up seven points, nine rebounds and four assists to spark the Cazenovia attack. He would finish with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“Tom is a competitor,” said Widrick. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”
Deep 3-pointers by Aaron Burbidge and Trent Widrick sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter that put the Lakers up for good. At one point, the margin grew to 16 (33-17), and the Lakers still possessed a 37-22 lead deep into the third period.
Rattled at first by the combination of Laker pressure and unceasing noise from the Cazenovia student section, the Warriors settled down in the second half — and began to eat into the deficit.
Twice in the fourth quarter, Jim Ross hit 3-pointers to slice Cazenovia’s lead to two, the latter making it 45-43 with less than four minutes to play. Despite the run, Eschen said his team did not panic.
“We just stayed with what we were doing,” he said.
That meant long and patient possessions, and forcing the Warriors to foul. Incredibly, Cazenovia would go to the free-throw line 20 times in the final period — and make all 20 shots.
Burbidge was the magnet for the fouls, and he didn’t mind. Keeping his free-throw percentage above 90 percent, he sank all 14 of his attempts for the night, leading to a team-high 19 points.
Chris Nourse also was perfect at the line down the stretch — six-for-six- on his way to 18 points. Peter Lokai did not score, but his nine rebounds were vital.
After such an emotional and important win, Cazenovia had little time to gloat. On Wednesday, it will be back, meeting Chittenango in the opening round of the Bears’ annual Christmas Tournament at 8 p.m. The winner gets Oneida or Waterloo in the finals on Thursday night.
Todd Widrick said his team did not get too emotionally charged for Westhill — which, he added, will serve the team well the rest of the season as it tries to end a 41-year sectional championship drought.