Just the fact that the Henninger boys basketball team is in possession of its first Section III Class AA championship since 2004 was reason enough to be proud.
But it was how the Black Knights pulled it off that made it feel even better.
Henninger thwarted Utica Proctor's dreams of a third consecutive sectional title in an impressive 57-41 decision over the Raiders rendered Sunday afternoon at Manley Field House.
Long before it started, said Henninger head coach Erik Saroney, he could sense that his players were set to end a six-game skid to Proctor that included last year's Class AA final at Manley.
"I've never gone into a big game feeling better about our chances," he said. "Our kids were very loose and confident. They wanted it so much."
Having wanted it, Henninger went out and took it by taking the lessons learned in all those defeats to Proctor and applying them. Ben Cronin, Glenn Williams and Brian Wilson formed an intimidating presence in the middle, while guard Kihary Blue and Quantae Elijah mixed flawless defensive execution with well-timed outside shots that kept the Raiders from a late rally.
When they first met this season Jan. 8 in Utica, everything went wrong for the Black Knights. Cronin, a 7-1 senior center going to the University of Michigan, got into early foul trouble and saw his minutes limited. At the same time, forward Osvaldo Lara broke his arm, causing him to miss the rest of the regular season, and the visitors could not make an outside shot, either.
The rematch, on Jan. 22 atHenninger, caused even more frustration. Down by double digits late in the fourth quarter, the Black Knights made a furioius rally to take the lead with a minute left, only to see Deandre Preaster hit a big jump shot and crucial free throws in the final minute to help Proctor prevail again.