SYRACUSE — The McGraw boys’ basketball team has some unfinished business. It says so on the back of their warmup jerseys, as a matter of fact.
The fourth-seeded Eagles got one step closer to finishing the business in question Saturday, using a 17-8 fourth-quarter advantage to score a come-frombehind 65-57 win over top-seeded Lyme in the semifinals of the Section 3 Class D tournament at Onondaga CC’s SRC Arena. That earned coach Matt Martins’ team a spot in this Sunday’s 11 a.m. Class D sectional championship game on the same court against Central Counties League rival Madison, the third seed, in a rematch of last season’s Class D title contest.
The Blue Devils won that game 71-41 and on Saturday routed No. 2 Oriskany 86-46 in the other D semifinal to improve to 19-3 and set up the rematch. And that’s where the unfinished business comes in.
“It’s been this team’s goal to get back to the championship game, and go a little farther, since the beginning of the season,” Martins, his Class D state honorable mention team now 17-3, said after the win and prior to the second semifinal. “I’d like to see Madison again, because it would show people the class of basketball we play in the CCL. Our team, Madison, DeRuyter, Cincinnatus — it’s good-quality basketball.
“I noticed during introductions how young Lyme was (just one senior starter), and that was a key for us. Without a doubt, the experience from last year helped our guys out. When we warmed up it was like ‘Yeah, we’ve been here before.’ So, while it was a new experience for some — we also have some JV callups who played here last season — the kids who played here last year felt more comfortable.”
Martins singled out a trio of those players in particular for their individual efforts. “We have three senior captains, Kevin Shorts (guard), Dakota Stauber (forward) and Chris Pickert (forward), who played like senior
captains today,” he said. “Chris played an excellent game for us on defense; for the second game in a row we put him on the other team’s best player and told him his job was to stop him from scoring, and he did it.”
Pickert covered Indians sophomore guard-forward Isaiah Wilson and held him to 16 points, five under his average. Shorts led the winners’ offense with 21 points to go with six rebounds while Stauber added 15 points with seven rebounds and three assists. Junior center Chase Curtis also scored 15 points, along with a teamhigh nine rebounds and three blocks. Pickert had four steals on the day.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder,” Shorts said. “The seniors aren’t happy with how last season ended. We thought coming into today’s game that we were the better team in spite of the seedings. I want to see Madison, for a rematch from last year.”
As for his team-leading offensive production, Shorts noted that “My teammates helped with ball movement; give a lot of credit to them. That was what helped me get open shots.”
McGraw led 17-9 after the first quarter and was up 36-30 at the half after four lead changes in the last two minutes. Lyme led by three points, its biggest advantage of the game, three times in the third, which ended with the Indians up 49-48.
Curtis scored inside 15 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a 50-49 lead. Aubertine tied the game at 50-50 by hitting one of two free throws 23 seconds later. Eagles junior guard Maurice Peterson then scored the next four points of the game inside and the winners never trailed thereafter. Lyme was within two, at 58-56, when Indians coach Leo Wilson called a timeout with 4:48 left.
“During that timeout, I told the guys that if we played good defense and moved the ball on offense, the game was ours,” Martins said. “I had confidence that they would pull the game out.”
Isaiah Wilson hit one of two free throws with 3:52 left to make it a 58-57 game, but those were the last points the Indians would score, with seven missed shots and a turnover down the stretch. Shorts scored four points and Stauber three points the rest of the way to account for the final margin.
Coach Wilson didn’t substitute at all during the game, and four of his five players ended up in double figures. In addition to Isaiah Wilson (the coach’s son), junior guard Damon Blaha scored a team-high 17 points for the Indians, who had a 20- game winning streak snapped, while freshman guard Tyler Wilson (Leo’s nephew and Isaiah’s cousin) and junior forward Ryan Aubertine added 11 points each.
“We just couldn’t get a consistent flow going,” coach Wilson said after his team, ranked fourth in the state in Class D coming in, had a 20-game winning streak snapped to conclude a 21-2 season. “”That’s very rare for us. McGraw’s man-to-man defense was very aggressive, probably the best we’ve seen all year; we see a lot of zone. They did a lot of switching off, helped well and kept us off the boards. That was one of the worst rebounding games we’ve had all year.”
The Eagles owned the boards, 38-27.
“This was the first time we’ve played here,” coach Wilson continued, “and it makes a big difference. It’s wide open, which can affect your shooting. “We tried talking to the boys to tell them what to expect, but until you’re on the floor you don’t really understand. We’re used to a wall right behind the basket.”
McGraw and Madison played a pair of league games this season. The Blue Devils, the 12th ranked Class D team in the state, won both, 56-44 at home on Dec. 19 and 64-53 at McGraw on Jan. 30.