Home venue, road venue, neutral venue -- regardless of the setting, the Fayetteville-Manlius boys basketball team has found a nemesis in the form of the Henninger Black Knights.
For the fourth time in the span of barely a year, the Hornets met Henninger -- and just like the previous three occasions, F-M lost, this one a 50-46 decision in a tense, dramatic Section III Class AA quarterfinal on Friday night.
Overall, the Hornets have lost seven straight games in this series, but what makes things worse is that, each time, it's close, and often the stakes are high.
The most frustrating stretch began a year ago, when Henninger came to F-M and won 75-68 in overtime, temporarily denying head coach Tom Blackford his 400th career win. Later that month, they met again in the Class AA semifinals at LeMoyne College, again went to overtime -- and again F-M lost, this time 59-55.
F-M thought it could turn things around in the series at Henninger's Joe Mazella Court on Jan. 5. But again it lost, this one a 67-64 game that took two overtimes to settle as the Black Knights' Kadeem Johnson hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer of the first OT to keep it going.
Now it all came full-circle, back to the "Hornets' Nest", where it was finally supposed to turn around. At last, F-M, a streaking team with lots of late-season momentum, would solve the puzzle of the Black Knights, then set its collective sights on a first sectional championship since way back in 1955.
Right from the start, though, Henninger looked nothing like the inconsistent 10-8 squad of the regular season, playing all-out defense and forcing the nervous Hornets into 15 turnovers in the first half alone.
All this left F-M down, 29-22, at halftime, but it wouldn't go away. Gradually, the Hornets took better care of the ball, made some shots and, by the end of the third quarter, only trailed by one, 38-37, the home fans eagerly awaiting the completion of the comeback.