High stakes - and high emotions - are on display for all to see Saturday night when Henninger meets Utica Proctor for the Section III Class AA boys basketball championship.
The Black Knights, driven to win in memory of its late former star, Kihary Blue, will face a largely hostile environment of Raider fans at Utica Memorial Auditorium, trying to avenge two regular-season losses to the Raiders - 53-47 on Dec. 23 at home, then 66-48 at Proctor on Jan. 28.
Both sides have fresh memories of bitter defeats in sectional finals. For Henninger, it was the 2009 title game, where Blue and the Black Knights fell in overtime to CBA. For Proctor, it's the 2010 championship game where Cicero-North Syracuse used a banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer to stun the Raiders and snatch the crown away.
Henninger had to pass quite a test just to get back to the title game, surviving a dramatic Class AA semifinal Tuesday night at LeMoyne College to knock out CNS, the no. 2 seed, by a score of 60-56.
The Black Knights had to like the setting, since it has won five straight Mayor's Roundball Classic titles at LeMoyne. And it was also the last team to beat CNS, 59-55, on Jan. 4 before the Northstars set off on a 12-game win streak.
With a size advantage across the board, Henninger quickly went out in front and, all game long, used its active match-up zone to bottle up CNS star Zach Coleman, holding him to just 11 points.
Steadily, the Black Knights' lead grew, from 31-24 at halftime until it had a double-digit edge, 40-30, late in the third quarter. Then the lead vanished as the Northstars closed the period on a 12-0 run, suddenly moving ahead 42-40.
Just as quickly, Henninger opened the fourth quarter with a 12-0 spurt of its own, highlighted by Marquies Young's dunk and consecutive 3-pointers from Kavon Delee.