pblackwell, Wed, March 11th, 2009
The three boys basketball teams that won Tuesday night to earn overall Section III championships came to their thrones in wildly varying ways.
One team was favored from start to finish, having won the last two sectional titles. Another got instantly powerful at mid-season and hasn't stopped since. And the last came from nowhere to get hot at the exact right time, when the playoffs got underway.
Hannibal was the team going after the three-peat in Class B, and reached it at Cicero-North Syracuse by fighting past its namesakes from Westhill in a 53-45 game where having a little bit more experience counted a lot.
Even with a 10-0 run in the second quarter, Hannibal couldn't get away from Westhill, who did an effective job preventing outside shots (again) and ate away at that deficit throughout the second half behind Dan Ross, who had 20 points.
But after Westhill pulled within one, 39-38, it missed on two chances to get the lead midway through the fourth quarter, and Hannibal coolly put together a 12-2 run down the stretch, playing superb defense of its own and making eight straight free throws, too.
Only here did the contrast between Hannibal's senior-heavy lineup, desperate to give retiring coach Ken Sturges one more title, and Westhill's young roster show up. Westhill will be back, for sure, next winter, but it's got to happen now for Hannibal, who will try to beat Binghamton Seton Catholic Saturday at OCC to gain a ticket to Glens Falls.
New York Mills, like Hannibal, has a veteran coach on the sidelines (Mike Adey) who has traveled these roads before. Yet he never has enjoyed a season like this one, when mid-season transfers turned the Marauders from a middling squad to an instant contender.
Adey's experience and Mills' talent has proven to be a lethal combination in the playoffs, from elimination of top seed DeRuyter to the handling of Otselic Valley at Manley for the D-2 title.
And it continued Tuesday in the overall Class D final at Jamesville-DeWitt, where big Fred Russ played big to help the Marauders dethrone defending champion Sackets Harbor 60-47.
Russ stands at 6-4, 260 pounds. That was too much for Sackets, as Russ got 26 points and 15 rebounds, sparking an early 16-2 run that put Mills ahead for good.
The Patriots did crawl back to 47-46 early in the fourth quarter but, like Westhill, couldn't pull ahead as the Marauders got clear. Mills now will try to upend unbeaten (23-0) South Kortright in the regional final Saturday at SUNY-Cortland.
You could see Hannibal getting this far, and Mills once everyone was on board.
But Onondaga? NO ONE saw that coming when the Tigers finished the regular season 11-9 and earned a measly no. 9 seed in Class C-2, destined for a quick exit.
Except that OCS didn't go away. It took out Pulaski, shocked top seed Cooperstown, ripped through Westmoreland and overcame eight first-half points to rally and stun Tully in the C-1 finals.
Larry Behm did quite a coaching job keeping this team focused through the winter's tough times and getting them to peak now. All the sectional champs have experienced bench hands, from Behm, Adey and Sturges to CBA's Buddy Wleklinski and J-D's Bob McKenney. That's about 2,000 combined coaching victories right there.
Back to Onondaga, though. At OCC Tuesday night, the Tigers this time got the jump, then fended off LaFayette the rest of the night to win 54-44.
A barrage of 3-pointers had OCS ahead 20-7 early. The Lancers spent the next two periods erasing that margin, pulling within one, 38-37, but the Tigers closed fast.
Four OCS players scored in double figures, making LaFayette pay for focusing too much on Ted Zabel. Can the Tigers keep this impossible dream going? The answer will come Saturday at SUNY-Cortland against Section IV champ Oxford in the regional finals.