Though the sight of Jamesville-DeWitt and Bishop Grimes clashing in boys basketball has passed the stage of novelty and turned into something routine late each winter, never have the two programs met with as much at stake as they will next Sunday night at the Carrier Dome.
It’s the Red Rams against the Cobras for the Section III Class A championship after both sides prevailed in Friday night’s semifinals at SRC Arena, J-D turning back Central Square 63-55 and Grimes upending top seed Whitesboro 53-41.
Of course, the connecting thread between these two neighboring programs is Bob McKenney, who coached the Red Rams to so much glory and then has found success with the Cobras. Twice, they have met in closely-fought sectional semifinals, J-D winning in 2017, Grimes prevailing in 2018.
To McKenney, though, it’s just a match-up of great teams. “We’re trying to whip them, and they’re trying to whip us,” he said.
Setting up this high-profile clash first required J-D to get past a Central Square side with which it split two regular-season meetings.
Max Schulman’s 10 first-quarter points sparked the Rams as it jumped out 16-7 on the Redhawks and, for the rest of the half, answered each Central Square spurt with one of its own to take a 34-26 lead to halftime.
Yet J-D head coach Jeff Ike said he knew the Redhawks would rally. “They were going to make a run,” he said. “Good teams always claw their way back.”
And Central Square did, capping its charge with five consecutive points from Tim Giblin early in the fourth quarter that put the Redhawks in front for the first time all night, 49-46.
In situations like this, said Ike, “no matter what, you keep your composure, and our team did.”
For that, they could thank the trio of Payton Shumpert, Preston Shumpert and Matt Cieplicki, who accounted for all the points on a 10-0 run that put the Rams ahead to stay.
Schulman returned to bag a clinching 3-pointer with under a minute left, finishing with 17 points, just behind Payton Shumpert, who got 12 of his 18 points in the second half as Cieplicki had 14 points and Preston Shumpert eight points. J-D was good at the free-throw line, too, converting of 13 of 16 foul shots.
When the Rams were done, it was Bishop Grimes’ turn, and its opponent was a Whitesboro side determined to get past the sectional semifinal round, where it had lost each of the previous two years.
But the Warriors would meet with more frustration on this night in large measure due to the Cobras’ defense, which throughout the game harassed Whitesboro into mistakes and off-target shots.
McKenney said that his team’s main plan was to wear down the Warriors’ front line and force them to depend more on outside shots, and then harass the guards, too, which worked to near-perfection.
Attempting 43 field goals, Whitesboro made just 12 of them, a 27.9 percent clip, and Grimes also outrebounded them, 39-31, while forcing 14 turnovers. At one point in the first half, the Warriors went nearly eight minutes without a field goal.
Yet there was some room for offense, too, especially from the duo of Nate Gay and David Mo, who both had special nights.
Gay, whom McKenney called one of the area’s best sixth man, gave the Cobras a needed spark, especially when both teams were slumping in the early going. His seven points propelled Grimes to a 22-14 lead just before halftime.
Also, throughout the last two periods, Gay delivered valuable baskets on his way to 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds. McKenney said that, by not thinking too much and accepting his role off the bench, Gay has flourished.
Mo’s 3-pointer in the second quarter put him past 1,000 points for his career, drawing a long and loud ovation from the Grimes fans in attendance.
And when Morreale, with 11 points in less than three minutes (he finished with 23 points), led a Whitesboro surge late in the third quarter to cut the Cobras’ lead to 35-33, it was Mo getting eight of his team-high 17 points during a 14-4 run that stretched deep into the final period.
With that accomplished, Grimes and J-D could look forward to a full week of preparation – and hype – for their sectional title-game showdown.