For all the punishment the East Syracuse-Minoa boys basketball team took last season, the ending was worth all the trouble.
The bitter memories of a 4-16 campaign got erased, partially, when the Spartans went north and shocked 16-4 Indian River 68-65 in the first round of the Section III Class A playoffs.
That single game gave ESM a belief that, once the 2009-10 season rolled around, it could be a force right from the opening tip-off.
It could not have started in a better way, as the Spartans went to Cortland Tuesday night and overcame a slow start to beat the Purple Tigers 54-42.
ESM had just three points in the first quarter, but recovered enough to pull within two, 22-20, by halftime. Then the Spartans got even hotter in the third quarter, outscoring Cortland 24-11 and going in front for good.
Ken Cannon, with 13 points, led a balanced ESM attack where Sharif Nero got 11 points and Greg Raab picked up 10 points. Quadear Mike had seven points, with Steve Lothridge adding six points.
When the Spartans had its home opener against Chittenango two nights later, it started each half with an offensive surge -- and it produced a 76-56 win over the Bears.
ESM was relentless in the first quarter, forcing the action as it built a 22-15 lead. From there, the two sides exchanged baskets until the start of the second half, when the Spartans took off again, outscoring Chittenango 23-15 to lock things up.
Five Spartans scored in double figures. Nero, with 19 points, led the way as Mike produced 18 points. Raab got seven of his 13 points at the free-throw line as Cannon and Josh Stuper earned 10 points apiece. Devin Christopher led the Bears with 17 points.
This fast start was crucial, because ESM will have to face a pair of powerhouses this week -- first a trip to defending Class AA champion CBA on Tuesday, then a Thursday home battle with two-time state Class A champion Jamesville-DeWitt.