As it accepted the first-place trophy and medals Thursday night at the Chittenango Christmas Tournament, the Cazenovia boys basketball team could have smiled reflecting on the perfect 10 -- as in a 10-0 record -- that it has built in the first half of the 2006-07 season.
Indeed, the Lakers were happy -- but also a bit relieved.
In the two nights of the tournament, Cazenovia twice stared at defeat -- and twice beat it back, using a combination of extreme poise and extremely potent defense to remain unbeaten.
The excitement began in Wednesday night's opening round, when the Lakers met the hosts from Chittenango and pulled off a remarkable escape job.
Sporting a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, and an eight-point lead with two minutes left, the Bears squandered both advantages, watching the Lakers rally and steal a 51-48 victory.
Bringing along its usual brand of tight defense, Cazenovia soon found that its offense, so effective in the huge Dec. 22 win over Westhill, was not firing at the same level.
This was especially true in the third quarter, when the Lakers' modest 22-21 lead vanished as it was held to five points.
Chittenango maintained that stiff resistance well into the fourth quarter, building a double-digit advantage and appearing poised to halt Cazenovia's eight-game win streak.
Then the Bears' nightmare began. Two starters, Nick Bloom and Chris Frascatore, fouled out, while another (Heath Stone) was hobbled. Chittenango missed easy chances near the basket.
Most of all, the Lakers' attack woke up. Cody Ash poured in 10 of his 13 points in that final frame to key the comeback, and Aaron Burbidge's clutch 3-pointer (one of four in the homestretch) put the Lakers ahead for good.
Chris Nourse matched Ash with a 13-point output, while Trent Widrick gained 12 points (all from four successful 3-pointers) and Burbidge added eight points.