Jan 05, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
With a tremendous record of success built up over a quarter-century, Bishop Ludden boys basketball head coach Pat Donnelly was bound to reach the 400-win plateau.
That Donnelly did so against the school where his coaching career began only seemed fitting.
On the basis of big performances from Frank Smith and Rick Montgomery, the Gaelic Knights beat East Syracuse-Minoa 66-56 last Friday night on its home court in Geddes.
“I was fortunate,” said Donnelly. “I’ve been blessed by having so many great kids through the years, plus a lot of fans and friends, and I’m glad it worked out so it (the 400th win) could happen at home.”
As the game ended, Ludden fans gave Donnelly a standing ovation as he was presented a special commemorative basketball autographed by all the team’s players.
None of his current players were born when Donnelly, fresh out of SUNY-Potsdam, took a job as the JV coach at ESM in 1981. Two years later, he went to the varsity ranks, where he led the Spartans for four seasons.
Then in 1987, the job at Ludden, where Donnelly graduated in 1976, opened up when Jerry Wilcox stepped down. All Wilcox had done was accumulate a 214-94 record in 14 seasons, twice reaching the state finals. Anyone succeeding him would be held to a high standard.
Eager to coach at his alma mater, Donnelly left ESM and came back to Geddes. In 21-plus seasons at Ludden’s helm, Donnelly’s teams have won eight sectional titles and, in 1994, reached the pinnacle by grabbing the state Class C championship.
Titles got more elusive when Ludden got moved up to the Class AA ranks earlier this decade. However, the Gaelic Knights have revived in the Class A ranks, going 16-6 a season ago and enjoying a 5-2 start this winter.
Donnelly reached 399 career wins Dec. 26 in the opening round of the Rosemary Corcoran Holiday Tournament. The first attempt at 400 went astray when Ludden lost the Dec. 27 final to St. Peter’s (Staten Island), but it also proved to be fortuitous.
Originally, the Gaelic Knights were set to face ESM on Dec. 19, but it got snowed out. By playing two weeks later, it allowed Donnelly to get his career milestone at the expense of his one-time employer.
But it proved far from easy. ESM, despite an 0-8 mark, had gone through many close calls, so it wasn’t scared one bit by Ludden. It stayed close throughout the first half and, early in the third quarter, the Gaelic Knights and Spartans were locked in a 29-29 tie.
Then John Rooney, quiet for most of the night, hit a 3-pointer, launching a 9-0 run that pushed Ludden ahead for good. ESM never gave up, pulling back within four, 52-48, at one point in the fourth quarter, but it would not get closer.
Much of that was due to Smith and Montgomery. Controlling the paint, Smith poured in 28 points and added 18 rebounds. When the Spartans tried to contain Smith, Montgomery popped open, as he finished with 27 points. Tyler Dattmore (14 points) and Greg Raab (11 points) led ESM’s attack.
Donnelly said that, as great as the 400th win was, it was more important to look ahead and get win no. 401 on Tuesday, when Ludden visits Mexico. That, plus a Friday visit from Cortland, precedes the first “Holy War” of the season with archrival CBA Sunday at 2:30 at LeMoyne College.