Not too long ago, the Liverpool boys basketball season appeared in shambles, with an 0-4 start, an unexpected coaching change and the vast majority of a brutal Class AA schedule still ahead.
Yet now the Warriors appeared to have turned things around, going 4-3 under interim head coach Matt Jacob and capturing the championship of the 39th annual Juggler Classic at Utica-Notre Dame.
In the first round on Saturday, Liverpool took on Nazareth Academy, from New York City, and squeaked out a 58-56 victory.
In the second quarter, the Warriors, down 14-12, outscored Nazareth 19-13 to move in front. A high-scoring third period saw Nazareth move within one, 47-46, and it remained that tight the rest of the way, but Liverpool held on.
Alonzo Grainger hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 13 points. Tyler Bliss managed 10 points, while Dominick Pirro had eight points. Caleb Taylor gained seven points and John Larue got six points.
Now the Warriors drew host Utica-Notre Dame (who sported a 9-2 record) in Sunday’s championship game after the Jugglers beat West Genesee 70-52 in the other part of the opening round. Again, it was close – and again Liverpool pulled it out, outscoring UND 79-75.
All game long, the pace was torrid. Liverpool’s early 19-15 edge disappeared, but it kept matching baskets with the Jugglers all the way to the final moments, where free throws decided it.
Down by two, 77-75, the Jugglers’ Simon Pitman, who poured in 34 points, had two foul shots to tie it, but missed them both. Seconds later, Mike Russo hit a pair of free throws to seal the victory.
Russo, held without a point against Nazareth, took over here with 23 points. Bliss, with 14 points, and Taylor, with 12 points, also hit double figures, while Abe Odum (seven points) and Grainger (six points) helped out, too.