The West Genesee boys basketball team celebrates the first state Class AA championship in program history, earned Saturday night at Floyd L. Maines Arena in Binghamton when the Wildcats defeated Brentwood 70-57.
A school long accustomed to glory in other sports has now reached the pinnacle on the hardwood.
Late on a memorable Saturday night at Binghamton’s Floyd L. Maines Arena, the West Genesee boys basketball team defeated Brentwood 70-57 and, by doing so, earned the first state Class AA championship in program history.
Even as the Wildcats were making its decisive third-quarter push, senior captain Lucas Sutherland took time to remind anyone nearby that he was having fun, proving that the stage, and the pressure it creates, wasn’t too big for him or his teammates.
“From day one, we were going to enjoy the moment,” said Sutherland. “And we knew that, as long as we played our game, we would get the results we wanted.”
“I’m so happy for our kids,” said head coach Fred Kent. “This team was an optimistic group that had great chemistry, got along, helped each other and rooted for each other.”
State tournament MVP Will Amica echoed this sentiment. “We just stuck together,” he said, explaining WG’s unique ability, throughout the season, to weather tough situations and produce something special.
Arguably, the last game brought the most special performance of all, against a Brentwood side from Long Island that led 28-19 midway through the second quarter, only to have the Wildcats counter with a 20-2 run that put them ahead for good.
Amica carried his team early, scoring 16 first-half points, while Christian Rossi’s rare four-point play – a 3-pointer while fouled, and the ensuing free throw – sparked the Wildcats to pull even, 30-30, by halftime.
Then Sutherland, along with Amica and Cam Jones, scored the first nine points of the third quarter, WG building its margin to 10 before Brentwood fought back within four, 49-45, early in the final period.
Any doubts were erased, though, when Amica scored five straight points and Sutherland, in one defining sequence, hit a clutch 3-pointer in the corner, and then hustled downcourt to block a shot on defense seconds later. All of it was part of a 13-2 run, and Brentwood never got closer than eight points again.
Amica finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Sutherland had 19 points, six rebounds and four blocks. Rossi gained 12 points and Jones earned nine points.
Before all this, the term “Cardiac Cats” was a proper moniker for this team. From surviving in the final seconds of a ragged Section III final against Utica-Notre Dame, to rallying from 14 points down to beat Saratoga Springs in overtime in the regional final, the Wildcats did not take an easy path to Binghamton.
So it only figured that Friday night’s state semifinal against Niagara Falls was in doubt until the final buzzer, which sounded only after the Wolverines missed multiple chances to win it and WG had held on for a 59-57 victory.
Up by 12 at one point in the fourth quarter, WG still led by seven when Niagara Falls’ Josiah Harris hit back-to-back 3-pointers, cutting the margin to one, 58-57, with more than a minute to play.
When an offensive foul negated a Sutherland basket on the ensuing possession, Niagara Falls had a chance to go in front. As it turned out, the Wolverines would get three chances at that go-ahead basket before time ran out.
A Niagara Falls 3-pointer was missed, Jack McLane grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 28 seconds to play, only to miss both free throws. Again, the Wolverines had the ball, again tried a 3-pointer – and again missed.
McLane once more came down with the rebound, drawing a quick foul with eight seconds left. A third straight miss at the line was followed by a make that doubled WG’s slim margin to two.
But that still meant Niagara Falls could tie or win it in the closing seconds. The ball went to the right corner, and Jaemon Turner had an open 3-point look, but like the Wolverines’ previous two attempts, it bounced off the rim and, moments later, the horn sounded.
The Wildcats survived, due to the work it did in the third quarter. Strong inside play from Sutherland (who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds) and John Benson sparked a 15-4 run that covered most of the period. Then McLane offered crucial contributions on his way to 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Despite all this, plus 15 points from Amica, the 50-38 margin nearly melted away as Harris, who had 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, keyed Niagara Falls’ comeback that fell inches short.
A night later, against Brentwood, there was no last-minute or last-second drama.
Instead, players, coaches and fans alike got to celebrate well before the final horn the work of a special Wildcats team that, while it dreamed big, did not forget to enjoy the journey it took, all the way to the pantheon of West Genesee state champions.