March 4, 2013
Let's not kid ourselves. The quintet of Section III boys basketball title games, important as they were, took a back seat - and I mean a seat wayyyyyyyyyyyy in the back - to the absolutely stunning finish of the Section I Class AA final at the Westchester County Center.
If you haven't seen it....where the heck have you been? New Rochelle was down two to 10-time (and reigning) state champion Mount Vernon with 2.9 seconds left. Khalil Edney, quarterback of the state Class AA championship football team in the fall, had to throw it deep to get a real shot off.
Edney's pass got intercepted by Mount Vernon's Devonte Banner, who simply had to hang on to the ball and wait to be fouled in the few remaining moments. But he chose to heave it, thinking, in that split-second of time, that it would kill the rest of the clock. Somehow, Edney charged to the ball in the air, grabbed it, and, well.....this.
There is no more insane way to win a championship game, and no worse way to get beat. And it would be unprecedented in 99.999 percent of the high school world...except that Mount Vernon got stunned in this manner in 2009, as well, by Newburgh Free Academy, who rode this miracle all the way to the big prize in Glens Falls.
Nothing even remotely close to that sort of madness enveloped the Carrier Dome on Sunday. In fact, at times the basketball fell into the mundane category as, in two cases, one side clearly trumped the other. But there was still a potent mix of history and emotion throughout the day.
In the Class C final that started things, Mohawk, poised to merge with Ilion next year, wanted to leave on top. Beaver River, denied in the finals a year ago, wanted to stop them.
Together, they staged the best game of the day. Hot 3-point shooting, especially from Sam Widrick (he finished with 25 points), had the Beavers up by as much as 18 in the third quarter. Almost by himself, Carson Murphy willed his Mohicans back into it, piling up 38 points in a memorable high school swan song.
It nearly wasn't a swan song, though. Missed front ends of one-and-ones and bad fouls on the other end dwindled down the margin until Murphy tried one more 3 from inside half-court in the waning seconds. Unlike New Rochelle, this prayer fell short.
The 68-65 decision left Beaver River ecstatic and Mohawk, especially Murphy, close to inconsolable. Given the huge crowd they brought from the north country, expect Beaver fans to fill the BInghamton High School gym Saturday for the regional game against Moravia, even if it's a two-hour drive.
New York Mills won't have to drive as far to make what seems to be an annual trip to its state tournament destination after it easily cast aside gritty, but overmatched Cincinnatus 60-35 in the Class D sectional finals.
The big story had little to do with the game, though. With that win, Marauders coaching great Mike Adey reached the 500-win plateau, something only two other Section III coaches (Al Knapp, Dave Powers) have ever reached.
It isn't just that Adey has claimed nine sectional titles (both at Mills and at Rome Catholic) and that long-awaited state championship in 2011. It's that he's done so with a maximum amount of class. Adey is one of the nicest people you will ever encounter, truly grateful for the opportunity he has to coach young people. He's also a heck of a coach.
This year, Mills did it with a smaller lineup centered around guards Nick Comenale and Jake Kehrli, who were bent on atonement after dropping an all-time classic final to eventual state champ Sackets Harbor on that same Dome Court 12 months ago.
And Mills has to be favored in the regional at Oneonta State against Marathon. Moved down from Class c this winter, Marathon's record is 10-12 (really), but it shocked Morris in the Section IV final and must believe that it pull off another shocker against the Marauders to keep Adey stuck on 500.
The atmosphere in the Class B final was a bit surreal, and certainly subdued. So much about the Westhill-Skaneateles clash was rendered meaningless by the real-life tragedy Westhill had to face when senior Anna Pullano lost her life in an automobile accident near the SU campus early Saturday morning.
Once the game started, though, the Warriors, either putting those sad thoughts aside or spurred to win one for Anna, built a 23-point third-quarter lead, the sophomore tandem of Jordan Roland (25 points) and Tyler Reynolds (19 points) too much for the Lakers to deal with.
Except that Skaneateles nearly made it all the way back and threatened to top its double-digit comeback in the sectional semifinal against South Jefferson, closing within six in the fourth quarter before Westhill settled down, made some stops and won 63-51.
That makes it three sectional titles in four years for the Warriors, who go to SRC Arena on Saturday for a regional game against Norwich, from Section IV. In 2010 and 2011, Westhill made it past the regional round and got to the state final four, and fully expects to do so again.
Henninger will join Westhill in the hoops festivities at OCC after it emphatically took back the Class AA crown from Utica Proctor in a 60-34 romp that, perhaps, was even more lopsided than that final score indicated.
You had to figure that, somewhere, Tom Blackford and his guys from F-M were watching this game (or maybe they weren't watching, the pain from the semifinal loss to Proctor was that great) and wondering why in the heck didn't that happen at Le Moyne eight days earlier.
Proctor simply couldn't make a basket, especially the outside shots, but a lot of that was due to continual, relentless, in-your-face Black Knights pressure that never let up. Anchored again by point guard and tournament MVP Romero Collier (he's just a sophomore), Henninger allowed just 19 points in the first three quarters. Ouch.
Not only do the Black Knights stop you, they also have so many ways to beat you on the offensive end. Against West Genesee in the semifinals, it was hot outside shooting from Keith Tyson II and Franky Vigliotti. This time, it was bruising inside work from Marquane Silvers, who had 18 points, aided by Ahmad McKinney and Chris Hicks. They'll be formidable for Troy or Green Tech in the regional round on Saturday afternoon.
Oh yes, that Bishop Ludden team might have a good shot, too. Class B state champs in 2012, the Gaelic Knights got a promotion - and still made it back to the Dome and won another sectional title, turning back New Hartford by a 57-44 margin to claim Class A honors.
It wasn't just that Ludden won, it was the way they did it. For once, it wasn't the Dan Kaigler-Ben Hackett show, though Hackett, the tournament MVP, certainly put things away with his 10 fourth-quarter points that thwarted a possible Spartan rally and Kaigler had a couple of thunderous slams.
With the stars struggling throughout the first three quarters, Ludden got lots of key baskets from Zach Walser, Kyle Hawk, Cameron Littlejohn and Jack Rauch. For so long, they had been role players, occasionally hitting the big shot (especially in Littlejohn's case), but here they were the main threats, gladly exploiting New Hartford's obsessive desire to stop Kaigler and Hackett.
Such balance could push Ludden all the way to the state championship again. If it can master Saturday night's regional nightcap (likely against Scotia-Glenville), it means another trip east to Glens Falls, to make Pat Donnelly's NYS Coaches Hall of Fame weekend a working occasion, too.
Before all this, though, there's a regional game Tuesday at SUNY-Purchase, in Class AA. Binghamton, the Section IV champs, is facing New Rochelle, who, as you might have heard, has a rather difficult act to follow.