In essence, the Cazenovia boys basketball team's Section III Class B playoff run began a few days early.
True, the Lakers' game against Hannibal Friday night was a regular-season affair. But it would also determine whether Cazenovia would continue into the post-season after attempts to clinch against Marcellus, Skaneateles and Westhill came up short.
A team needs a .400 record against league or sectional opponents and Cazenovia, at 7-10 (4-9 league), could only get in with overall record if it beat Hannibal. And the task seemed simple enough, with the Warriors mired at 1-15.
But for one night, Hannibal turned it around, shocking the Lakers 51-46 and abruptly ending whatever post-season plans Cazenovia possessed.
For the visitors, the first ominous sign came through an opening period where it managed just six points and could not take advantage of the Warriors' own offensive troubles.
And Cazenovia continued to slump in the second period -- just as Hannibal caught fire, going on a 21-9 run to seize a 27-15 halftime advantage.
Seeing the danger, Cazenovia roared back in the third period and pulled within three, 38-35, and the final period featured all kinds of excitement as the Lakers tried to catch up and Hannibal kept turning them back.
Finally, Alec Nelson's free throws in the waning seconds put it away, leaving the Lakers at 7-11, one win short. In defeat, Max Kellish and Zack Golden each had nine points, while Chad Dorrance got eight points. Tanner Whiteman (seven points) and Cody Whiteman (six points) were close behind. Zach Welling (13 points) and Jake Shortslef (11 points) led Hannibal's effort.
Two nights earlier, against Westhill Wednesday at Buckley Gym, the Lakers lost a 77-47 decision to the Warriors.
Westhill, not looking ahead to a Friday showdown with Bishop Grimes for the OHSL Liberty division regular-season title (which it would win 66-42), pushed the tempo from the start, and Cazenovia could not keep up. It was 68-34 before the Warriors eased up in the fourth quarter.
Kellish led the Lakers with 13 points. Golden had nine points, with Cody Whiteman putting up eight points and Chris Giardina earning six points. Westhill had Dan Ross produce 17 points and Mike McMullen add 16 points.
Even with the rough finish, Cazenovia's 7-11 mark was an improvement upon the 3-17 total of a season ago, and with a young roster, head coach Steve Yarnell expects more growth a year from now.