Mar 03, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
In the larger context, the boys basketball game between Westhill and Skaneateles Sunday at the Carrier Dome for the Section III Class B championship was just that – a game, nothing more.
Yet tragic circumstances added an extra layer of emotion to the occasion, one that fueled the Warriors – and would eventually overwhelm the Lakers.
Mostly paced by the sophomore tandem of Jordan Roland and Tyler Reynolds, Westhill put away Skaneateles 63-51 to earn its third sectional title in four years.
Westhill will face Norwich (Section IV) Saturday night at 6:30 in the Class B regional final. The winner advances to Glens Falls Civic Center for the state final four on March 15-16.
Both sides had high amounts of motivation. For Skaneateles, it was simply a matter of a basketball team trying to end a 20-year sectional basketball title drought against the same team that beat them in the 2011 finals.
For Westhill, though, the motivation was entirely different and had little to do with the game itself. Early Saturday morning, Westhill senior Anna Pullano, 18, lost her life in an automobile accident near the Syracuse University campus.
In Pullano’s memory, a candlelight vigil was held at Westhill High School on Saturday night, and the crowd at the Dome observed a moment of silence prior to the game’s tip-off. Westhill students held several “Play For Anna” signs, and the players wore blue ribbons on their warm-up shirts.
Such an event can drive a team in different directions. Either it loses its focus and plays poorly, or it has an increased determination to succeed.
“These kids are resilient,” said Westhill head coach Kevin King. “We talked about it, and I thought they could handle it.”
The Warriors did handle matters, especially on defense, where its man-to-man pressure kept Skaneateles from scoring a basket for the game’s first three-plus minutes, more than enough time to establish total control.
Roland and Reynolds staked Westhill to an 8-0 lead, Reynolds fully healed from the bruised back he suffered in his team’s semifinal win over Clinton a week earlier.
Combined, Roland and Reynolds accounted for 12 points, and cold shooting by the Lakers left it trailing 17-6 going to the second quarter and needing a quick turnaround.
Alex Brownlee provided a brief turnaround with six points in a 9-2 run to open the period. Roland answered it, though, with 10 more points to give him 17 for the half, almost carrying Westhill to a 31-21 margin at the break.
For Skaneateles (who lost to Westhill 58-43 in early December), these were circumstances quite similar to the sectional semifinal, where it erased a 14-point second-half deficit to beat South Jefferson in overtime.
Now, as then, the Lakers had to find a way to stop the opposition’s main scoring threats. But while it did do the trick against South Jefferson’s Tom Bassett, Roland and Reynolds would prove more elusive.
Westhill went on an 11-0 run to open the second half, shutting down the Lakers just as it had at the start of the game while seeing Reynolds hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 42-21.
Reynolds went on to score 11 of his 19 points in the period, the margin growing to 23 (49-26) at one point as the Lakers appeared beaten – until it closed the quarter with 12 straight points.
Suddenly, it was Westhill that was nervous and tentative and Skaneateles playing the aggressor, holding the Warriors without a field goal for more than six minutes and moving within six, 50-44, with more than five minutes left.
“Skaneateles was tough,” said King. “They defended us hard. So I told my players to keep fighting through it.”
With chances to get even closer, the Lakers could not convert, and key baskets from Roland (who finished with 25 points), Kevin Karleski and Jeff Lobello restored the margin to double digits as the Skaneateles rally ran out of steam.
Collin Jones paced the Lakers with 17 points, while Brownlee gained 13 points. Westhill did an effective job against the Lakers’ front line, holding Chris Knupp to seven points and Austin Gardner to six points.
And as the final seconds ticked down, a chant went up from the Westhill students – “All for Anna! All for Anna!”, concluding a weekend few associated with the school would ever forget.