Progression of program fuels optimism, even after Wildcats lose to Finney in Friday's Section V Class C1 championship

Champions are not made overnight and if any team understands this, it’s the Marcus Whitman Wildcats.

The Whitman boys have for the last several seasons been the standard in the Finger Lakes West. But that success has not translated into the postseason, although the progression is evident.

An early exit from the postseason two years ago fueled a run to the semifinals last year, which in turn lit the fire for this season’s run to the Section V Class C1 championship.

But after Friday’s 63-42 loss to Finney at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, the Wildcats are still waiting for their first Section V championship since 1976.

“That was a tough one,” said Whitman coach Greg O’Connor. “Because all the hard work you put in, this is what you build up to. And when you can’t bring home the block, it’s tough.”

The start of Friday’s game was encouraging enough for Whitman after baskets from Liam Prendergast, Jon Donovan and Prendergast again gave it a 6-0 lead.

But that’s when the problems started for the Wildcats. They made just two baskets in the rest of the quarter while Finney found its groove and opened a 17-10 lead to take into the second.

After Ryan Herod’s basket and a 3-pointer from Noah Hildreth cut the Finney lead to 17-15 early in the second, the Whitman offense again went cold and the Wildcats made just two more field goals the rest of the way. But again, Finney’s did not and it took a 39-21 lead into halftime.

“We did not shoot well,” said O’Connor of the Wildcats, who were just 9-for-27 from the floor in the first half. “We felt good going in, we were prepared mentally and warmups were good. But I think maybe their pressure did a good job of forcing us into bad shots.”

The Finney lead grew to 25 points midway through the third before 3-pointers from Herod and Donovan were part of a surge that closed the gap to 17. But Finney pushed the lead back to 21 going into the fourth and it stayed that way until both coaches cleared the benches for the final few minutes.

“The plan was to take those two, Keegan Ocorr and Markus Robinson, out of the game,” said O’Connor. “But they had some open shots. We wanted to stop the ball early and then get some help on the backside, but we didn’t quite do that.”

MVP Ocorr finished with a game-high 28 points and Robinson’s 14 points were part of an effort that saw Finney (19-3) shoot 45% from the floor.

So the progression continues for the Wildcats, who return four starters next season. The lone senior, Donovan, wraps up a varsity career at Whitman that started in eighth grade. It was a bittersweet reflection afterward for Donovan, who acknowledged advancing this far, but at the same time falling short.

“It hasn’t fully sunk in yet,” Donovan said outside the team bus. “But yeah, it’s been huge to get this far. I’ve been on varsity now for five years this was definitely an experience.”

And as much as the loss stings, the pride in the program is not lost.

“These kids coming up are great kids,” said Donovan. “They all put in a lot of work and they’re great teammates.”

In the room after the game, O’Connor said the impact Donovan’s had on the team this season, and overall program, is undeniable.

“I give Jon a lot of credit,” said O’Connor. “He helped this young team get to a point where we got to play in the Big House. We told him that next year, we’re playing these games for him.”

Prendergast led Whitman (20-3) with 14 points and nine rebounds while Donovan added 11 points and eight rebounds. Both were named to the Class C1 all-tournament team.