SYRACUSE 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.