February 27, 2013
Something odd took place Tuesday night in the Section III Class C-1 and C-2 title games. The no. 1 seeds won. Really.
Beaver River, the pace-setter in C-1, erupted for 31 fourth-quarter points and turned back Tully 77-58 at Jefferson CC. Mohawk, continuing its impressive farewell tour in C-2 (they merge with Ilion next year), didn't need any late surge against Fabius-Pompey, but just stuffed the Falcons 68-46 at Herkimer CC.
That finalizes the lineup for Sunday at the Carrier Dome - our version of Super Sunday, really, if the weather holds - and who knows for sure, given that Wednesday night's girls Class A final, J-D vs. Whitesboro, had to be pushed back to Saturday night by more winter precipitation.
When they tip off just after 11 a.m., it is the last two sides punching Dome tickets that go first. Really, Beaver River has been pointing to this since the 2011 sectional final, when as a bunch of juniors they ran into an experienced Cooperstown side and got turned back at the brink of the summit.
The entire BR starting five, led by Alex Hall and Sam Widrick, returned, and they've taken names this year, 20-1 and no. 5 in the state. Every bit of wisdom would say that the Beavers won't get denied this time around.
Mohawk thinks otherwise, though. Just like Beaver River, the Mohicans brought back a ton of talent from 2011-12 and, just like the Beavers, they've turned it into 20-1 gold, with the fabulous Carson Murphy at the helm, ably backed by Mike Santillo and Kainan McCarthy.
Some revenge is in mind, too, since Mohawk lost to BR 70-59 in last year's semifinals, when Class C did not split. The split in 2013 brings the Mohicans and Beavers back together, and with so many talented, hungry seniors on both sides, this could be a really good one.
Far less is expected from the Class D final at 12:45, where the very familiar New York Mills squares off with the not-so-familiar Cincinnatus in a final where no one will give the Lions much of a chance.
This is, after all, Mills, and Mike Adey, and the likes of Nick Comenale and Jake Kehrli in a first-rate backcourt as good as any in the area. The Marauders have counted the days for 12 months since it dropped an all-time Class D final in 2012 to a Sackets Harbor side that, after holding on to beat Mills 62-61, ended up winning a state title.
Nothing less than a state championship to match the one it gained in 2011 will satisfy Mills, whose playoff run included a payback quarterfinal romp over Oriskany and a hard-earned semifinal win over Faith Heritage in Dan Sorber's coaching farewell.
To that end, Cincinnatus, who took out top seed McGraw in an impressive 63-47 semifinal effort, must overcome the perception that it beat up on weaker competition within the Center Counties Conference. Bryant Loomis, Mickey Halstrom and Shea Feehan will key the Lions' efforts, and perhaps the fact that there are no expectations might help Cincy here.
In the middle game on Sunday at 2:45, Westhill clashes with Skaneateles for the Class B championship, just as they did in 2011 at Utica Auditorium, when Kevin McAvoy's 34-point masterpiece helped the Warriors defend its title and avenge two regular-season losses to the Lakers.
That history doesn't matter much now, though. Each side is different, Westhill fueled by sophomore Jordan Roland and his ability to just put up lots of points at any time, Skaneateles more balanced in its approach as anyone from Chris Knupp to Austin Gardner to Collin Jones to Alex Brownlee to freshman Bobby Leslie could get the hot hand.
It was Knupp's 21 points, combining with a defense that figured out shooting star Tom Bassett, that helped Skaneateles rally in overtime to knock off no. 1 seed South Jefferson 58-52 in last Sunday's semifinal at SRC Arena, right after Westhill pulled away from Clinton in the other semifinal.
The South Jefferson comeback offered further proof that the Lakers are far removed from the side that opened the season three long months ago with a 58-43 loss to Westhill. Then again, the Warriors have improved plenty, too, and that trademark man-to-man Warrior defense will challenge every inch of court, so Skaneateles needs the same toughness and grit it showed against the Spartans.
Class AA will follow the B final, and once again it's Henninger against Utica Proctor, the third straight time they will battle for the crown after the Black Knights won in overtime in 2011 at Utica Aud and the Raiders escaped at the buzzer with the championship a year later at the Dome.
This was supposed to be the year F-M broke up the Henninger-Proctor monopoly, but the Raiders stunned the top-seeded Hornets 68-61 in the semifinals at Le Moyne, finding the shooting range just as John Schurman went cold. It was a bitter defeat for F-M to take, one that had Tom Blackford pondering retirement even as he knew Schurman and Jake Wittig will return next year.
Less dramatically, Henninger handled West Genesee 67-54 in its semifinal. It's hard to read too much into what happened in the regular season-split between Henninger and Proctor because, as Erik Saroney pointed out, the Raiders were terrible when it visited the North Side in December and the Black Knights were just as terrible in the January rematch in Utica.
So likely you'll have another tense, physical and exciting final in the Dome. Proctor has to guess where Henninger point guard Romero Collier will direct his passes, since the Black Knights are so balanced. On the other end, Henninger's challenge is not concentrating too much on Proctor's Chris Simmons, because as F-M found out, Naronn Harvey and J'Von Evans are just as dangerous.
It ends Sunday night with Class A, and Bishop Ludden battling New Hartford, yet another instance of a no. 4 seed (like Cincinnatus, Skaneateles and Proctor) who knocked off a no. 1 seed to get this far, the Spartans beating Carthage 57-43 with a big second-half push.
Should Ludden earn another state championship to match its 2011 run in Class B, it might look back on its semifinal classic against Cortland as a touchstone. Trailing with less than a minute left, the Gaelic Knights got big plays from its big stars - a clutch basket by Ben Hackett to pull his team ahead, a bigger block by Dan Kaigler to preserve that slim lead en route to a 54-51 win.
Now the Gaelic Knights get a look at New Hartford. With the Spartans, the challenge is twofold - find a way through a defense that applies a lot of ball pressure, and then make absolutely sure that Jared Henderson, Jordan Henderson and Tom Clifford don't start finding open 3-point looks, because they can get red-hot, as they showed in wins over Proctor (twice) and West Genesee from the AA ranks.