For the Vernon Verona Sherrill boys basketball team, the road to mid-season recovery lay through winning its own Christmas Classic against a familiar Tri-Valley League foe.
The Red Devils clashed with New Hartford in Wednesday night's championship game and stayed close for a while -- but a third-quarter defensive lapse made the difference in a 51-42 loss to the Spartans.
The familiarity VVS and New Hartford had with each other's systems led to a low-scoring first half as the defenses took charge. Field goals were precious, and the Red Devils held the Spartans in check, only trailing by one, 15-14, at the break.
But when New Hartford's Ben Zalewski began to assert himself in the third quarter, VVS got into trouble. All told, Zalewski had 14 of his 15 points in the second half, igniting a 21-11 burst that put the Spartans in control for good.
Despite Nick Rizzo getting 11 points and nine rebounds, Joe Spinella earning nine points and Mitch Iseneker adding seven points, VVS could not rally. Both Rizzo and Spinella earned All-Tournament team selections.
Both teams reached the final with relative ease. VVS shut down Acton (Ontario) for long portions of a 62-23 victory, while New Hartford beat Georgetown 48-33.
Earning its second win of the season, VVS saw 11 different players get field goals against Acton. Rizzo, with 12 points, led the deep and balanced attack, while Spinella got eight points. Nash Robb and Jason Dalton each had seven points, while Simon Pitman earned six points.
As VVS was beating Acton, Oneida was making up a snowed-out Dec. 11 game against Camden and improved to 6-2 on the season, crushing the Blue Devils 72-40.
The Indians doubled Camden's output in a 26-13 first-quarter outburst, then gained further control by holding the Blue Devils to a single field goal in the second period as the margin grew to 38-15.