Just at the right time, all the hard luck that plagued the East Syracuse-Minoa boys basketball team for much of this season turned around.
Given little chance to last beyond Tuesday's opening round of the Section III Class A playoffs, the Spartans, despite its no. 15 seed, went deep into the north country and stunned no. 2 seed Indian River 68-65.
This was exactly the type of game that ESM, despite all-out efforts, kept losing in December and January, leading to a 4-16 regular-season mark. But the Spartans were saved, at least this year, by Section III's open tournament format.
Given a second chance, ESM didn't waste it against the Frontier League A division champs from Indian River, who went 16-4 this winter. It helped, too, that the Spartans saw the Warriors back on Dec. 30, losing a close consolation game at the Vince Celi Memorial Tournament, so nothing would come as a surprise.
All through the first half, the Warriors tried to burst out in front. Each time, the Spartans answered, keeping the game close and keeping pace, too. By the time they went to the halftime break, ESM only trailed by two, 39-37.
When IR cooled off a bit in the third quarter, the Spartans jumped to the lead, 55-52. Through a tense final period, ESM again matched what the Warriors could produce, winning by the smallest margin possible.
Ken Cannon and Steve Lothridge each had 16 points as part of the Spartans' balanced attack. Andy Raymond gained 12 points, while Sharif Nero earned 11 points. Tyler Dattmore (six points) and Greg Raab (five points) also proved productive. For IR, Curtis Dukes had 17 points and Jarrod Mattingly added 15 points.
Looking for a second big surprise, ESM goes to no. 7 seed Whitesboro for Friday night's Class A quarterfinal. The Warriors had rallied past Cortland 59-53 in its opening-round game.