Five short years ago, Syracuse Academy of Science was just opening, and Institute of Technology Central was still in the planning stages, a year from opening its doors.
Now these schools are the proud owners of Section III boys basketball championships after last Saturday's Class C finals at Utica Memorial Auditorium.
First, it was SAS claiming the Class C-2 title, holding off Onondaga 51-48 as the Atoms rallied in the fourth quarter and got two clutch free throws from Dakeem McLain with 5.7 seconds left to help put the Tigers away.
Then ITC, 4-14 a year ago, completed a remarkable one-year turnaround when it toppled top seed Cooperstown 69-52, the Eagles pushed there by the combined efforts of guard Jahcin Ingram and forward Jebron Thomas.
Having lost last year's Class D final to New York Mills, SAS was a bit more used to this stage. Still, it had to break from its usual fast tempo to avenge a Jan. 14 defeat to Onondaga, who rode a 12-game win streak into the finals.
The Atoms trailed through much of the game, yet never let OCS get clear, thanks to the work of 6-7 forward Ahmet Tunali, who made 10 of the 11 shots he attempted and finished with 21 points to snag tournament MVP honors.
With the score tied at 47-47, Kaleel Johnson's steal and lay-up pushed SAS ahead by two with 1:40 left. Taylor Bassett's free throw with 45.2 seconds cut the margin to one, but the Tigers entered the closing moments with just three team fouls.
Thus, OCS had to use up precious seconds accumulating four fouls to send the Atoms to the line. Finally, McLain got his one-and-one chance and, after the Tigers took time-out to try and freeze him, calmly made both shots to stretch the margin to three. When Ryan Gavin's 3-point attempt to tie it went off the rim as the buzzer sounded, SAS had a sectional title.