Mar 03, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To be sure, the Jamesville-DeWitt boys basketball team was quite happy when it lay claim to the Section III Class A championship Sunday night at Manley Field House.
As a large fan contingent looked on and celebrated a 56-44 victory over New Hartford, Red Rams players proudly donned T-shirts and posed with the championship banner with the glee that only teenagers can show.
Amid all that joy, though, an obvious sense of relief also prevailed.
Ever since its undefeated run to a state championship in 2004, J-D was favored to win at least a sectional title each of the next three years. Each time, it got knocked off before reaching that goal — by Mexico in 2005, by Indian River in 2006, and by New Hartford in last year’s sectional semifinals.
This only added to the burden that the Rams felt Sunday — so when the crown was achieved, everyone, including head coach Bob McKenney, could exhale.
“We carry that mantle of favorite every year and we feel the pressure,” said McKenney. “Now that this is achieved, the pressure is off now and we settle back to playing good basketball (in the state playoffs).”
As for the players, they had all been around 12 months ago when New Hartford knocked off J-D on that same Manley court. Most notably, Brandon Triche had watched that game from the bench, still recovering from the torn right ACL he had suffered in the middle of the 2006-07 season.
Triche wasn’t a spectator this time. He, along with fellow J-D veterans Nick Pascale, Mickey Davis and Alshwan Hymes, would make sure that New Hartford’s valiant attempt to repeat as sectional champions came up short.
When J-D ran off the game’s first seven points before the game was three minutes old, it had the potential to turn into a quick runaway, the kind of performance J-D has pulled off several times on its way to the no. 2 spot in the state Class A rankings.
However, New Hartford didn’t waver from its game plan. Instead, once it broke the Rams’ attempts at full-court pressure, it utilized long possessions, draining most of the 35-second shot clock in a successful attempt to control tempo and keep J-D from speeding things up.
At the same time, Spartans guard Andrew Steates found a hot hand, hitting on three 3-pointers late in the period as part of a 17-4 charge that ended the period and offered an emphatic answer to J-D’s quick start.
By halftime, Steates had 18 points and J-D was still behind, 24-21. Triche had just a single field goal, and the Rams knew that, if it didn’t turn it around quickly, another disappointing ending was possible.
Gradually, the pace picked up in the third quarter as Triche reeled off five straight points and Hymes hit a 3-pointer as part of a 12-4 run that put the Rams ahead 33-29. Refusing to buckle, New Hartford rallied and forced a 35-35 tie that lasted until the fourth quarter.
Just at this moment, though, the Rams’ pressure began to take a toll.
In a span of 10 seconds during the opening minute of the final period, Hymes ignited the Rams with a 3-pointer, steal and lay-up to make it 40-35, just the kickoff of a 19-3 run that consumed less than five minutes of clock and settled the contest.
Aside from the familiar names, Mitchell Howe provided a big spark off the bench, taking charges on one end and hitting a timely basket on the other.
Howe combined with Pascale and Davis to hold New Hartford’s leading playoff scorer, Mike Kelly, to just nine points — this after Kelly got 38 points against Indian river and 28 points against Whitesboro in the previous two rounds.
Hymes, even more effective as J-D’s sixth man, led the Rams with 15 points. Pascale was right behind, as his 14 points included several dunks, while Triche got 10 of his 12 points in the second half and Davis added 10 points. Steates, though he cooled off in the late going, still led all scorers with 24 points.
J-D will play Saturday in the Class A regional final at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy against the Section II/X survivor, needing to win to return to Glens Falls for next weekend’s state final four.