Mustangs' title hopes dashed on late 3-pointer

Gary Pinneo
Penn Yan’s #42 Adam Stork loops his shot over two Midlakes players.

March is the month known for its unpredictability. Weatherwise, it can be sunny and 70 degrees one day and 10 degrees and snowy the next.

Historically, probably Caesar could have never predicted his demise would have come from behind in March. People can literally tell you to go fly a kite in March and mean it. In the local sports sense, March is also the month high school basketball championships can be won, or lost for that matter. 

Trying to figure out which team will take home the trophy can be just as complicated and frustrating as trying to predict the March weather. 

The Penn Yan Mustang basketball team traveled to Rochester on Friday evening to face off against their Finger Lakes East rival Midlakes Screaming Eagles. On the line this time was a Section V, Class B1 championship.  Midlakes, the reining Finger Lakes East D-II champion, was the No. 1 seed in the B1 bracket.  Penn Yan, the second place team in the Finger Lakes East, came into the contest as the No. 2 seed. 

Statistically,  the two teams were nearly identical on paper.  Both teams sported 16-6 records. 

They had split their two regular season games, each team winning on the other team's court. Both squads were led by a core of experienced seniors who had played in big games before. 

This had all the earmarks of an old-fashioned clash of the Titans — maybe one of those classic high scoring "barnburners" with both teams scorching the nets and lighting up the scoreboard.  After all, both teams knew each other well.

But, as stated earlier, this is March and that can mean everything is unpredictable. This Section V title game would be closely contested, but would play out in a totally different way. 

Both Penn Yan and Midlakes suffered from ice cold shooting from the field.  Whether it was a collective case of the jitters or vast expanses of the Blue Cross Arena, both teams had trouble finding their range.  The shooting percentage numbers for both sides were as weak as restaurant ice tea.

The Mustangs shot 22 percent from the field in this game.  They were only two for 18 in the first half, a very chilly 11.1 percent.  Midlakes was not much better. They shot 36.8 percent from the floor for the game. Not exactly sizzling.

The saving grace for the Orange and Blue Cagers was their success from the charity stripe.  They converted 17 of 23 for 73.9 percent.  This kept them in this ballgame. The lack of shooting success for both teams did not diminish the enthusiasm of the multitudes of loyal fans from both schools that made the trek to the Flower City's Arena by the River. 

This late evening tilt was a closely contested, albiet low-scoring game. Both sides envisioned a championship conclusion.

Penn Yan could muster only 11 points in the first half and trailed the Eagles 23-11 after the first 16 minutes.  Besides some frosty shooting numbers, the Mustangs were also plagued a bit by some early foul calls on their inside duo of  James Willson and Mike Worden. But the 'Stangs did convert 7 of 11 from the foul line in the opening half to stay relatively close to the Midlakes roundball quintet.  Hopefully they could come out strong in the second half.

Penn Yan began their comeback move in the third quarter.  They stepped up their defensive pressure and held the Screaming Eagles to just four points in the stanza while scoring nine points of their own.  Heading into the final quarter, Penn Yan trailed by just seven, 27-20.

The fourth quarter for Penn Yan was the James Willson show.  For the entire season, the talented senior center had been the Mustangs “Go -to” man and leader. This game was on the line and James Willson was ready for the challenge. He carried his team on his back, scoring their final 13 points of the game. 

Behind this effort, Penn Yan came all the way back. A Willson 3-point play cut the Midlakes lead to 35-33 with just 38 seconds remaining.  After a huge defensive play forced another Midlakes turnover, Willson once again converted another traditional 3-point play to give Penn Yan a 36-35 lead, their first of the evening with only 16 seconds remaining. 

The game script seemed to be complete for the Mustangs and their faithful fans. " Mustang Senior Delivers Sectional Title!" But once again we must remember, this is "unpredictable March."

Midlakes answered Willson's heroics with an unforgetable ending of their own.  The Eagles' eighth grader Shane Sweeney stepped up and calmly drained a 3-pointer to give Midlakes the lead for good 38-36 with just nine seconds remaining.

The Mustangs had run out of magic.  Midlakes left the court with their first Section V Basketball title ever and the Mustangs' season came to a heart-breaking end.

James Willson ended his stellar Penn Yan Mustang Basketball career with an outstanding effort in this sectional final. He scored 22 points, including the final 13 points Penn Yan tallied in the frantic fourth quarter.  Willson also had 10 rebounds.  Mike Worden scored six points in his Orange and Blue basketball finale. The cold shooting first half plagued the Mustangs.

“The kids did a lot better job in the second half, moving the ball and getting it inside to our big men,"  stated Penn Yan Head Coach Chuck Roach.  But it would prove to be a couple of points short this evening.

James Willson was named to the All-Tournament team along with teammates Mike Worden and Adam Stork. Ethan Kalmholtz was the recipient of the Sportsmanship Award.

Penn Yan ended their highly successful 2008-9 season with a 16-7 record. Penn Yan Coach Chuck Roach was extemely pleased with his team's hard work and and efforts this season. “This was the nicest group of kids top to bottom I might ever have had,” summed up the Penn Yan mentor. “They had a great season. I'm really, really proud of this team.”

Penn Yan’s #42 Adam Stork shoots over several Midlakes players.