Mar 16, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Stefan Thompson was saddled with his fourth foul, mired in a long scoring drought, and seemingly unable to prevent the end of the Christian Brothers Academy boys basketball team’s dramatic championship run.
Yet he stayed on the court for the entire homestretch of Saturday’s Class AA regional final at Cicero-North Syracuse High School — and when the big moment arose, Thompson was, once again, ready to deliver.
Thompson’s 18-foot jumper with 14.5 seconds left turned out to be the winning basket as Syracuse CBA beat Albany CBA 50-45, earning its first trip to the state final four in Glens Falls since 2003.
“It feels great,” senior Mike Goodman said. “We have worked hard in practice and on the court, and the hard work paid off.”
Just seven days earlier, Thompson had put up 40 points, 21 of them in the fourth quarter, and delivered the pass to set up the winning basket as CBA rallied past Henninger in overtime to win the Section III Class AA title.
To add to his growing post-season legend, Thompson first had to overcome a long scoring drought that consumed more than two quarters and helped Albany CBA lead for much of the afternoon.
Then, with 5:33 left in regulation, Thompson got whistled for his fourth foul. With his team trailing 39-34, head coach Buddy Wleklinski chose not to take Thompson out, gambling that he could avoid that fifth foul.
“There was no option,” Wleklinski said. “We were going to go down with what was there. We could have folded a few times, but our kids didn’t lose their poise.”
Indeed, with Mike Goodman, Troy Bullock and Pat Wiese all making key baskets, Syracuse CBA rallied to lead three times in those closing minutes, only to have Albany CBA tie it on each occasion.
With 46.7 seconds left and the game even again, 45-45, Wlekinski called time-out. On the ensuing play, Syracuse CBA worked the shot clock down until Goodman set up a perfect screen, leaving Thompson wide-open for his go-ahead shot.
Albany CBA still had lots of time to tie or win it. But Wiese never gave them the chance, stealing the inbounds pass and getting fouled with 9.1 seconds to play. Wiese sank both free throws, clinching the victory.
The entire game proved to be a thriller. Albany CBA jumped out in front, 8-0, and only Thompson’s big shots kept Syracuse CBA within range at 16-11.
Still trailing 24-18 late in the second quarter, Syracuse CBA set out on a 13-1 run, its defense taking away anything Albany CBA tried as Goodman dominated on the boards.
Overall, Goodman had 12 points and 17 rebounds. He, along with Bullock (eight points) and Mike Kitts (nine points), carried the offense as Albany CBA fixated on keeping Thompson from repeating his Henninger magic.
“They tried to take me away,” Thompson said. “But my teammates stepped up and made open shots.”
Shaking off that mid-game slump, Albany CBA roared back to the lead and appeared to have control when Thompson got that fourth foul. Again, though, Syracuse CBA recovered, setting up the late-game excitement.
A night earlier, at CNS, the Brothers ripped through Massena 78-42 in the first half of the regional playoffs. An 11-0 run in the second quarter broke the game open, though it took a 10-0 spurt in the third quarter to really put things away.
Bullock led with 16 points, as Greg Thomson came off the bench to earn 14 points. Goodman had 12 points as Kitts and Sean Wayne (starting in place of an injured Kevin Yarnell) each got eight points.
With the win over Albany CBA, the Brothers set up a trip to Glens Falls Civic Center where, on Saturday at 2:15, it will confront state no. 1-ranked Niagara Falls (23-0) in the state semifinals. Whoever wins that game advances to Sunday’s final at 2:45 against Newburgh Free Academy or Uniondale.
Wleklinski said it’s important for his team to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Thompson concurred, saying the Brothers still have much to do.
“We haven’t been there in a while,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, we can bring home a state championship.”