March 18, 2013
Each of the last five years, someone from Section III would return home from state basketball championship weekend with a gold plaque in tow.
Jamesville-DeWitt's boys, boasting the likes of Brandon Triche, Dajuan Coleman and Tyler Cavanaugh, four times accounted for much of this streak. But so did the Breanna Stewart-led C-NS girls with its back-to-back titles, plus boys championships earned by Westhill, New York Mills, Sackets Harbor and Bishop Ludden, adding to the glory and feeling that hoops in Central New York was on a pretty good roll.
What's more, five teams from Section III made it to the 2013 edition of the state final four. Ludden, Westhill and Mills all returned to Glens Falls. C-NS was back in Troy, joined by Class D power Oriskany, trying to finish off a perfect season.
None of them would win it all, though, and only Oriskany even made the finals. It was the first time since 2007 that Section III was shut out of the top prizes.
Oriskany, no doubt, benefited from an advantageous situation in the semifinals. Livingston Manor had a so-so record and didn't even play a regional game, a source of some controversy. But the 9 a.m. start time Saturday morning affected the Redskins, too, as it slept through a quiet first half and only had a 16-11 lead.
The wake-up call came in the third quarter, Oriskany going on a 19-5 run and breezing the rest of the way to take out Livingston 49-31 and set up a state final Sunday against Batavia Notre Dame, a team nicknamed the Irish - on St. Patrick's Day. That's a whole lot of karma to deal with.
For a half, the Redskins dealt with it well, trading baskets. But in that same third quarter where Oriskany put it away the day before, it got run over by the Irish in a 14-0 spurt that proved to be the difference in a 52-40 decision.
So the dream season for an Oriskany senior core that included Christina Graziadei, Shannon VanShufflin and Brandi Zizzi, and getting back will be tough. Also, major credit to energetic head coach Angela Meiss and her staff for putting a terrific team together that ignited the community, who was very well-represented at Hudson Valley Community College.
Up in Class AA, C-NS wanted the state championship three-peat, but the mountain proved too steep. With Stewart (taking a break from her UConn NCAA tournament prep) a spectator instead of a dominant force on the court, the Northstars could not quite get payback for an early-season rout at the hands of Gates-Chili in Friday night's semifinal.
At least it wasn't a rout. Down by 18 in the second half, C-NS whittled the deficit to six and had the Spartans worried, but the shots down the stretch would not fall, and it ended 58-47 in Gates-Chili's favor.
The fact that Abbey Timpano, Sarah Bowles, Cara Gannett and co. still made it back to Troy, when so many had predicted post-Stewart doom, was still something C-NS could feel quite proud about. Now comes the tough part for Eric Smith as that senior trio leaves and a new group of Northstars must take over.
Even Gates-Chili, with its perfect record and group of stars, could not slow down the amazing Saniya Chong (who's joining Stewart at UConn next fall) and Ossining, who won the state AA title on Saturday in impressive style.
Troy, who had to fight so hard to get past J-D in the Class A regionals, came back home and won the big prize over Maine-Endwell 46-30. Irvington made it four straight state championships in Class B, fighting off Oneonta before crushing Waterloo in the finals, and Bishop Kearney turned back Harpursville (who had barely scraped by Cooperstown in the regionals) to win it all in Class C, part of a special Sunday for Kearney, as we'll detail later.
First, though, a note on the small schools. Section V has kept Kearney and Batavia-Notre Dame in the small-school ranks, and that has a lot of people (including some colleagues of mine) howling. At the least, they ought to be in the B ranks, maybe A, though it's doubtful that either of them would have stood a chance someone like Irvington or Ossining.
Switching to the boys side, it's a different matter. The top private-school teams do get bumped up, or better yet, want to play in Class A or AA, to get tested by the best. That was the case in Glens Falls, and both public and private sides had something to brag about.
Bishop Ludden intended to mark coach Pat Donnelly's Hall of Fame weekend with a second straight state championship, this time of the Class A variety. McKinley, from Buffalo, had other ideas, using its speed and frantic tempo to go on a 21-2 run in the third quarter, ruining the Gaelic Knights' plans and prevailing 75-61.
Don't worry about Ludden - Dan Kaigler and Ben Hackett have another year left, as does the likes of Jack Rauch and Zach Walster. But you've got to admire what McKinley pulled off, beating three straight private-school powers to win it all - Rochester Aquinas in the regionals, then Ludden, and finally Burke Catholic in an overtime state final thriller on Sunday.
As for Westhill, that whole routine of playing a brilliant first half and letting the opponent back into the fray, which it had survived in the sectional semifinals and finals plus the regional game against Norwich, finally caught up to them in the state semis Friday night against Babylon.
Up 13 at halftime, the Warriors again began to slump in the third quarter, and this time could not get out of it. They also could do nothing to stop Babylon's Fernando Vazquez, who dropped 40 points, 24 of them in the second half, and personally helped the Panthers drop the Warriors 67-57.
Babylon, and everyone else, could not prevent a Section II sweep of the Saturday state title games. Argyle started it, having used a 12-0 second-quarter run to turn around Friday's state semifinal against New York Mills, leading to a 67-60 Marauders defeat and talk that Mike Adey may have coached the last game of his legendary career.
Playing just 12 miles from home, Argyle had a home crowd and went on to beat Martin Luther King (Section I) 58-33 for the state title, led by do-everything guard Joey Lufkin, who had 32 against Mills. Then Lake George added to the home feel by beating Pine Plains for top honors in Class C, and Watervliet, in overtime, withstood another Babylon comeback and, atoning for the 2012 title-game loss to Ludden, won the state Class B championship.
Which brings us back to Bishop Kearney. The girls having won their state title, they made it to Glens Falls late Sunday afternoon in time to see the boys turn back ESPN highlight-reel hero Khalil Edney and New Rochelle in the Class AA state final.
Banged up for much of the season, Kearney, led by SU recruit Chinoso Obokoh, got healthy - and hot - at the right time and never got stopped until they were celebrating on the court in Glens Falls, concluding a long weekend where many champions were crowned - but Section III got shut out.