Mar 11, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Perhaps in the end, all that separated the Westhill boys basketball team from its namesakes at Hannibal was a little bit of seasoning.
The two Warrior teams dueled Tuesday night in the Section III Class B overall final at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, and Hannibal’s experience and poise down the stretch helped it beat Westhill 53-45.
It marked Hannibal’s third consecutive sectional title, a fitting send-off for a senior-heavy roster and for head coach Ken Sturges, who is retiring after this season.
Yet for a long time in this game, Westhill, a team with just one senior on its roster (Mike Mascari), appeared poised to spoil Hannibal’s quest for a three-peat.
One key advantage for Westhill was its intimate knowledge of Hannibal’s system through two regular-season meetings, each side winning once on their respective home courts.
So even though Hannibal had a considerable size advantage, with centers Brenden Nollet (6-7) and Matej Schinko (6-9) sharing time in the paint against Tom Fisher (6-6), Westhill could adapt and stay close.
Sure enough, the two sides traded runs late in the first quarter, ending up tied 13-13. They were still even, 17-17, when Hannibal made its first big move, as Tyler Baker sparked a 10-0 run that helped the Class B-2 champs gain a 27-20 halftime edge.
Despite this, Westhill’s perimeter defense, anchored by Mascari and Mike McMullen, remained strong, and in the second half it would not allow a 3-pointer, giving the Class B-1 champions plenty of time to rally.
Still down seven, 31-24, Westhill used back-to-back 3-pointers by J.T. Alcaro to close the gap, and it only trailed by three, 35-32, going into the fourth quarter.
Baskets by Nate Nigolian and Dan Ross helped Westhill pull within one, 39-38, midway through the fourth quarter, and if it could get the lead, Hannibal would be in some trouble.
Twice, Westhill had possession of the ball with a chance to go in front. Both times, the shots were off target, and Hannibal had a chance to regroup.
With 3:29 left, Schinko hit a baseline jumper, making it 41-38. Moments later, Hannibal forced a turnover, and Derrick Shoults turned it into a lay-up as the margin grew to 43-38.
Having regained the momentum, Hannibal would not let it go. Baker, Schinko and Jeff LaMont combined to hit all eight of their free throws in the last two minutes to prevent any Westhill rally.
All game long, Ross proved to be Westhill’s most reliable offensive weapon, putting up 20 points. Nigolian added 11 points, but McMullen, so good in the B-1 final against Marcellus with 21 points, had just four points on this night.
Meanwhile, Baker adjusted to Westhill’s emphasis on stopping the perimeter game with drives to the basket and clutch shooting, as he matched Ross with 20 points. LaMont had 10 points, with Schinko and Shoults each getting eight points.
Hannibal will face Binghamton Seton Catholic in Saturday’s Class B regional final at Onondaga Community College, with the winner advancing to the state final four in Glens Falls.
Westhill, meanwhile, finished with a 20-4 mark and will be a heavy favorite next season with Ross, McMullen, Fisher, Nigolian, Alcaro and Dan Karleski all coming back.