Mar 03, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
It was the middle part of the fourth quarter, and a victory in the Section III Class B final that seemed completely out of the reach of the Skaneateles boys basketball team was, suddenly, within the realm of possibility.
The Lakers, trailing Westhill by 23 in the third quarter of Sunday’s title game at the Carrier Dome, moved within six and had multiple chances to get even closer and pull off one of the greatest comebacks in championship-game history.
Alas, those chances slipped away. Instead, the Warriors inched away in the closing minutes and, led by sophomores Jordan Roland and Tyler Reynolds, prevailed over the Lakers 63-51.
Both sides had high amounts of motivation. For Skaneateles, it was simply a matter of a basketball team trying to end a 20-year sectional basketball title drought against the same team that beat them in the 2011 finals.
For Westhill, though, the motivation was entirely different and had little to do with the game itself. Early Saturday morning, Westhill senior Anna Pullano, 18, lost her life in an automobile accident near the Syracuse University campus.
In Pullano’s memory, a candlelight vigil was held at Westhill High School on Saturday night, and the crowd at the Dome observed a moment of silence prior to the game’s tip-off. Westhill students held several “Play For Anna” signs, and the players wore blue ribbons on their warm-up shirts.
Such an event can drive a team in different directions. Either it loses its focus and plays poorly, or it has an increased determination to succeed.
The Warriors did the latter, especially on defense, where its man-to-man pressure kept Skaneateles from scoring a basket for the game’s first three-plus minutes, more than enough time to establish total control.
Roland and Reynolds staked Westhill to an 8-0 lead and accounted for 12 first-quarter points. That, plus cold shooting by the Lakers, left it trailing 17-6 going to the second quarter and needing a quick turnaround.
Alex Brownlee provided it with six points in a 9-2 run to open the period. Roland answered it, though, with 10 more points to give him 17 for the half, almost carrying Westhill to a 31-21 margin at the break.
For Skaneateles (who lost to Westhill 58-43 in early December), these were circumstances quite similar to the sectional semifinal, where it erased a 14-point second-half deficit to beat South Jefferson in overtime.
Now, as then, the Lakers had to find a way to stop the opposition’s main scoring threats. But while it did do the trick against South Jefferson’s Tom Bassett, Roland and Reynolds would prove more elusive.
Westhill went on an 11-0 run to open the second half, shutting down the Lakers just as it had at the start of the game while seeing Reynolds hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 42-21.
Reynolds went on to score 11 of his 19 points in the period, the margin growing to 23 (49-26) at one point as the Lakers appeared beaten – until it closed the quarter with 12 straight points.
Suddenly, it was Westhill that was nervous and tentative and Skaneateles playing the aggressor, holding the Warriors without a field goal for more than six minutes and moving within six, 50-44, with more than five minutes left.
With chances to move within four, the Lakers could not convert, and key baskets from Roland (who finished with 25 points), Kevin Karleski and Jeff Lobello restored the margin to double digits as the Skaneateles rally ran out of steam.
Brownlee paced the Lakers with 16 points, while Collin Jones gained 14 points. Westhill did an effective job against the Lakers’ front line, holding Chris Knupp to seven points and Austin Gardner to six points.