Wildcats use hot shooting, stout defense to roll past Red Jacket, 63-44, Friday at Blue Cross Arena
ROCHESTER — This was more than the No. 1 seed vs. No. 2. So much more.
This was Red Jacket vs. Marcus Whitman. This was current Finger Lakes West champion vs. former Finger Lakes West member.
This was a meeting of old friends and rivals who hadn’t seen each other for a while, at least in a formal basketball setting.
So yes, the stage was set and the anticipation was tighter than a ratchet strap across a full load of new lumber. And when it was all said and done, there really wasn’t much to say. Because the Section V Class C1 boys basketball championship that the Marcus Whitman Wildcats won with a 63-44 score at Blue Cross Arena was that decisive.
"It’s all so surreal," said senior forward Liam Prendergast, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. "I don’t really feel anything."
You could say this title has been a long time coming for the Wildcats, but really, you could say that about Red Jacket too. Both teams were in separate Section V finals last season and both lost. And Red Jacket has been waiting for a Section V title since it last won in 2007.
But Whitman? It had been since 1976, when cars were as big as boats, televisions had just three channels and the Blue Cross Arena was just 21 years old. Indeed, this was a breakthrough moment for the Wildcats, who lost in the semifinal round two seasons ago.
"This feels 100 times better than I thought it would," said junior guard Ryan Herod, who scored a game-high 18 points. "We played great team defense and our offense was flowing."
That certainly is one way to put it for the Whitman offense. The Wildcats (17-6) pulled away from a 6-6 tie when Herod drained the first of four consecutive Whitman 3-pointers to give Whitman a 20-13 lead going into the second quarter.
Chase Rizzo (16 points, 7 rebounds) and Travis Hill (11 points) opened the second with buckets to pull Red Jacket (21-2) to within 20-17 but Whitman had enough answers to push the lead back to seven points at the half. The Indians pulled to within five again at 31-26 but that’s as close as they would get after another Whitman flurry produced a 36-26 lead midway through the third.
From there, it was just a matter of maintaining and the Wildcats were able to do that with a shooting performance that ended up at 54% for the game while Red Jacket shot just 36%.
"Our offense just wasn’t falling for us," said Red Jacket coach Travis Gage, who was in a Section V championship game for a third straight season. "Their offense was, and that was the difference.
"We didn’t take advantage of our height and our speed. It just wasn’t our night."
Tournament MVP Jordan Lahue (13 points) said the Wildcats knew they were at a height disadvantage, but felt they’d be OK if they stayed somewhat level and they did that as Red Jacket had a 27-25 edge on the boards.
But of those 25 total rebounds for Whitman, 23 came on defense and kept the ball in the hot-shooting hands of the Wildcats.
"We’ve always been a good shooting team," said Lahue, who scored 13 points. "We were working the ball well tonight, setting screens. It was a team effort."
Whitman coach Greg O’Connor, understandably, was all smiles. What else is there to do when you’re not quite sure how to feel?
"It really does feel great," he said. "I’ve got some emotions now that are indescribable to me ... This is as big an honor (for our community) as it is for us. They’ll celebrate this as much as we do."
The Wildcats will play C3 Champion Cal-Mum Monday evening at Wayland-Cohocton for the overall Class C title. The winner of that game will move on to the state tournament and play again March 14 at Buffalo State.