Mar 10, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Sure, it’s a new cast for the Westhill boys basketball team, but it’s a familiar mid-March destination – Glens Falls Civic Center.
The Warriors are going back to the state Class B final four after a hard-fought 59-58 victory over Section IV champion Norwich in Saturday night’s Class B regional final at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena.
The outcome was in doubt until the final second, when Kevin Karleski stole Norwich’s inbounds pass and time ran out.
“All year long for us it’s come down to defense,” said Karleski. “We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Of course, Westhill may not have preferred the exact reason it was so close. It nearly squandered a 16-point second-half lead against a tough, experienced Purple Tornado squad that refused to give up.
“It’s human nature that you relax a bit with a lead,” said Warrior head coach Kevin King. “Give them (Norwich) a lot of credit. They gritted it out.”
Though the Warriors were after its third state semifinal berth in four years, it was doing so with a different group of players than the one that made Glens Falls in 2010 and 2011. And it was trying to stop a Norwich side that was eager to atone for losing in this same regional round to Bishop Ludden a year ago.
For the Purple Tornado, the big problem was something previous Westhill opponents knew well – stopping the sophomore duo of Jordan Roland and Tyler Reynolds, which proved tough early as they accounted for 12 of the Warriors’ 14 points in a closely played first quarter.
Just as important was the Warriors’ defense holding Norwich’s top offensive threat, Kyle Edwards (who had 24 points in the Section IV final win over Whitney Point), in check. Edwards had just one 3-pointer in the early stages and picked up a pair of fouls, limiting his effectiveness.
After Edwards got that second foul, Westhill went on a 13-1 run in the second quarter, with back-to-back 3-pointers from Roland and William Billy as the spark. By halftime, Roland had 16 points, and the Warriors enjoyed a 35-24 lead.
So Westhill was in a familiar position – a double-digit second-half lead, just as it had in its last two sectional games against Clinton and Skaneateles, as it stretched out the margin in the third quarter to 44-28.
And just like in those last two rounds, the Warriors could not put it away, Norwich going on a 10-0 run late in the period before Roland stopped the surge with a key three-point play in the waning seconds that made it 47-38 with one quarter left.
Still, the Purple Tornado moved closer, within three on four different occasions during the final period despite some clutch baskets from another sophomore, Jeff Lobello, and it was 59-56 as the game entered the last minute.
Roland missed a jumper, and Norwich got it back. Michael Sutton, instrumental in the Purple Tornado comeback (he finished with 26 points), made a short jumper with 31 seconds left, cutting the Warriors’ margin to one.
Westhill had difficulty moving the ball in the face of full-court pressure, and turned it over when Grant Brightman made a steal with 19.6 seconds left.
King said that, with two fouls to give, his team could afford putting heavy pressure on the ball in the last sequence. As a result, Norwich never got off a possible game-winning shot.
Yet again, Roland had a big night, finishing with 27 points, while Reynolds, overcoming cold outside shooting, still earned 14 points. Edwards finished with 12 points.
Now the Warriors head back to Glens Falls, where it will face Babylon (Section XI) Friday night at 6:45 in the state semifinal. The winner will face Batavia or Watervliet in the state final Saturday night.
Roland said that his team started the season with more modest expectations, but that everything is different now.
“We’re here (in the state final four) now,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”