Having gone through its fair share of close calls so far this winter, the Cicero-North Syracuse boys basketball team succeeded in one of them to reach the finals of its annual Holiday Classic.
Facing Thomas Jefferson, a Section V school from Rochester, in the opening round on Dec. 29, the Northstars had to work to the very end to prevail by a score of 52-50.
The entire game proved to be tight. Jefferson led for much of the first half, but never more by a handful of points as CNS trailed 22-21 going into the break.
They would continue this tense exchange in the second half, so it figured that the game would get decided in the waning seconds.
Not until John Howell, who led the Northstars with 18 points, hit on two crucial free throws, could CNS feel safe. Howell earlier had a pair of 3-point field goals.
Andy Falvey, with 10 points, offered the main support to Howell, as Brett Smith finished with eight points and Elliott Boyce Jr. added seven points.
CNS faced as serious test one night later in the final against Fayetteville-Manlius. The 4-1 Hornets had used a 22-5 start as the springboard to a 74-56 opening-round win over Ithaca, not having to sweat down the stretch the way the Northstars did.
Maybe that factored in to the ultimate result, as CNS hung close for a while, but fell back in the second half of a 75-55 defeat.
As it expected to do, the Northstars used its size advantage to match F-M's high production in the first half. Falvey would produce a game-high 22 points, much of them early as the Northstars only trailed by two, 37-35, at the break.
But F-M's speed and hot touch from the perimeter led to 24-11 domination of the third quarter. Overall, the Hornets would convert 11 3-pointers, four of them from Jack Giles (who had 16 points) and three from Brian Zapisek, whose 21 points helped garner tournament MVP honors.
Other than Falvey, no CNS player reached double figures, though Eric Munoz came close with nine points and Brett Smith added eight points.
Stuck with a 2-6 record, the Northstars began play in 2009 with a Tuesday home game against Central Square before visiting Corcoran on Friday.