Feb 18, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Fayetteville-Manlius boys basketball coach Tom Blackford has won plenty of big games in his long coaching career, including a pair of state Class D boys basketball championships during his tenure at Hamilton.
Yet Blackford called the Hornets’ 66-54 victory over Nottingham in Friday night’s Section III Class AA quarterfinal his most satisfying win yet.
On the surface, Blackford’s sentiment appears puzzling, since it was only a sectional quarterfinal between F-M, a no. 3 seed, and Nottingham, a no. 6 seed, on a home court where the Hornets had not lost all year.
But the joy stemmed from what the Hornets had to deal with earlier in the week. Blackford had to suspend seven players, robbing him of depth and forcing him to call up four players from the JV Hornets to have a full roster.
However, F-M’s young quartet of stars – sophomore John Schurman, junior Tomer Nesher and freshmen Jake Wittig and T.J. Wheatley – remained on hand. Together, they would prevent Nottingham from getting payback for a 65-44 defeat at the “Hornets’ Nest” back on Jan. 20.
Not that it was easy at first. The Bulldogs, who had bashed Watertown 82-39 in Tuesday’s opening round, grabbed a 12-4 lead before the game was two and a half minutes old, and would stay in front throughout a fast-paced first quarter.
It took red-hot outside shooting for F-M to climb back. Schurman set the tone with four 3-pointers, and Wittig also connected twice beyond the arc as the Hornets climbed in front, 24-19, early in the second period, only to see Nottingham reclaim the lead late in the half.
If any single shot turned the game around, it was the banked-in 3-pointer Schurman made just before the halftime buzzer. Not only did it trim the Bulldogs’ lead to 38-36, it gave F-M energy and momentum that it would not give back.
That spread to the defensive end during a pivotal third quarter. All of a sudden, the Hornets swarmed on the wings, trapping the Bulldogs’ ball-handlers and forcing a rash of turnovers. F-M closed the period on a 12-0 run to take the lead for good.
Nesher had seven of his 19 points in that spurt, and Schurman would tack on seven more points in the final period to give him 29 points overall. Wittig, superb all night on the defensive side, picked up 13 points and seven assists, while Wheatley earned 10 rebounds.
F-M’s inspired, short-handed win did not overshadow what took place earlier in the night – namely, the girls Hornets, who own the no. 2 seed in Class AA, needing its own second-half comeback to get rid of pesky no. 7 seed Utica Proctor 56-44 in its sectional quarterfinal.
Three weeks removed from a 55-32 rout of that same Proctor squad on Jan. 27, the Hornets found the Raiders much tougher the second time around. And this remained true even though F-M led by as much as 10 in the first half and took a 28-20 advantage to the break.
Led by Sarina Olds, who finished with 18 points, Proctor went on a 17-4 run that covered most of the third quarter and put the Hornets behind 35-32.
With its season on the line, F-M kept cool and answered in a big way, closing the quarter on a 9-0 spurt capped by Erica Assimon’s 3-pointer. Suddenly, the Hornets had a 41-35 lead, and the Raiders never got closer than five points again.
Senior forward Kiley Shoemaker helped the Hornets get away, earning six of her team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, all from free throws. Assimon finished with 10 points, with Alexis Rios adding seven points. Charlotte Beers and Lauren Getman managed six points apiece.
In Tuesday’s AA semifinal at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena, F-M will face no. 3 seed West Genesee, who handled Corcoran 61-45 in its quarterfinal and will look to atone for a 49-41 defeat to the Hornets on Jan. 31 in Camillus. The winner plays Cicero-North Syracuse or Liverpool in the March 2 final at the Carrier Dome.
Meanwhile, the F-M boys take another shot at defending AA champion Henninger in its semifinal Thursday at Le Moyne College. The Hornets lost to the Black Knights 61-52 early in January. The winner here also heads to the Dome, on March 4, for the AA title game against Utica Proctor or C-NS.