To earn the Section III Class D-1 championship, the Hamilton boys basketball team knew that it would, at some point, have to confront and conquer a favorite.
And the no. 6 seed Emerald Knights have pulled that off, rising up last Thursday night to surprise no. 2 seed Oriskany 65-55 in the D-1 semifinals at Utica Proctor behind a superb all-around performance by junior guard Derrick Cenicola.
Now the trick will be for Hamilton to pull that off again early next week when it confronts top seed Richfield Springs in the D-1 title game -- but with Cenicola around, everything seems possible.
A round earlier, the Emerald Knights needed Cenicola's six 3-pointers to get past LaFargeville in overtime in the D-1 quarterfinals Feb. 15.
Somehow, against Oriskany, Cenicola got even better -- but it took a while.
The Redskins got the jump on Hamilton, bolting to a 15-8 first-quarter lead and building the margin to nine at one point early in the second period.
But a ferocious Hamilton defense took over late in the first half. It did a solid job containing Oriskany's 1,000-point scorer, Mike Sreca, holding him to just 12 points all night.
Even more important, the Emerald Knights' pressure forced the Redskins into a long series of mistakes, as Oriskany committed 27 turnovers, nearly one per minute.
Combined with timely offense on the other end, this led to a Hamilton run that stretched deep into the third quarter, as it outscored the Redskins 33-15 in the middle two periods to build a 41-30 advantage.
All through the final period, Oriskany would try to rally. Every time, Cenicola blocked their path, producing 15 of Hamilton's final 24 points, mostly through drives and successful free throws.
Cenicola seemed to do it all, as he piled 27 points, 10 steals (a career high), eight rebounds and six assists. And he didn't have to work alone, either.