To some degree, the Hamilton boys basketball team chased New York Mills all the way to Manley Field House -- but could never catch them.
As a result, the Emerald Knights could not claim its first Section III title since 2001, instead taking a 61-52 loss to the Marauders in last Saturday's Class D-1 championship game.
They had clashed twice in the regular season. Mills (22-1), no.6 in the latest state Class D rankings, had won on both occasions, part of a brutal schedule where Hamilton fell six timesto teams (Mills, Sherburne-Earlville and West Canada) to state-ranked teams on its way to a 10-10 mark.
All that seasoning, though, got Hamilton ready for the D-1 playoffs, where it crushed McGraw, then rallied to stun no. 1 seed Copenhagen in the semifinals on Feb. 23.
Eight days later, the Emerald Knights found itself at Manley, dealing with Mills for a third time. Unlike the first two meetings, Hamilton did not have to worry about the Marauders' 6-6 center, Steve Murray, who was dismissed from the team following an arrest in the hours after Mills' D-1 quarterfinal win over Remsen.
Still, the Marauders were a tight-knit, well-coached team whose passing skills led to open looks all over the court.
Early on, the trend was set. Hamilton did not show many jitters in the vast Manley setting, yet still fell behind 16-13 by the end of the first quarter.
What followed, well into the fourth quarter, was a consistent and frustrating pattern. The Emerald Knights would pull within a couple of points, only to have the Marauders secure a basket or two and stay out in front.
At one point early in the third quarter, Mills led 33-25, but Hamilton promptly dropped in six unanswered points to get close again, and the slim margin continued to bounce around.