SYRACUSE – Things were looking good for the McGraw boys’ basketball team Saturday as time wound down in the third quarter of its NYSPHSAA Class D Regional (quarterfinal) game against Harrisville from Section 10 at Onondaga CC’s SRC Arena.
The Section 3 champion Eagles had trailed most of the game, but when junior center Chase Curtis scored inside and classmate Maurice Peterson, a guard, followed with a steal and quick layup McGraw led 40-37 with 1:08 left in the third, having scored eight points in a row. However, the Pirates, ranked eighth in the state in Class D, came right back and scored the last six points of the quarter to take a 43-40 lead into the fourth, during which they never trailed en route to what ended up a 66- 55 win.
“We made a run, and they answered,” McGraw coach Matt Martins said after his team, ranked seventh among the state’s D teams, had concluded its season at 18-4. “That’s a very physical team, tough on defense, and they gave us trouble all game long. I don’t think we were totally ready for that. They’re also a quick team. We knew we could come back from eight points down (the Pirates led 32-24 at halftime); we had to do a better job of contesting shots and had to play tougher defense. In the third, we did.
“I think we also needed to do a better job of going up strong inside the paint and not falling away as much. Along with their hustle and physicality, that was one of the fastest defenses we’ve played this year.”
During the course of the game, the Eagles missed at least nine close-range shots. They were also outscored 19-4 from the foul line.
“The guys have been through this, and don’t lose their composure,” Harrisville coach Brian Coloney said, his team, now 22-3, advancing to the state semifinals for the second season in a row, having lost to Newfield 65-62 in double overtime in last year’s semis. “We didn’t play our greatest game, and give credit to McGraw for that. That’s one of the better defensive teams we’ve seen, and they played physical. “I think they killed us on the boards (the Eagles had a 40-31 rebounding advantage). At times I thought it was a layup drill for them; they kept beating us downcourt. And I was impressed with their big man, (Chase) Curtis.”
McGraw got off to a good start and led 8-6 before senior forward Dakota Stauber, the team’s leading scorer, picked up his second foul just four minutes into the game and was forced to sit. The Pirates went on a 14-4 run over the rest of the quarter and led 20-12 heading into the second. The Eagles could get no closer than six points over the next eight minutes, and Harrisville took a 32-24 lead into the locker room at halftime.
McGraw took Martins’ halftime observations to heart and went on its biggest run of the game, scoring 16 of the first 21 points in the third quarter for the aforementioned 40-37 lead. Three points each from senior guard Ryan Weaver and senior forward Trenton Sullivan — both, Coloney noted, four-year varsity players — put the Pirates up 43-40 heading into the final quarter.
Junior forward Chris Pickert, McGraw’s best defender in its man-to-man defense, picked up his fourth foul 51 seconds into the fourth, and by the time he came back in, with 3:42 left, Harrisville led 58-49. The winners also made a key adjustment during that stretch. “We went from man-to-man on defense to a zone press with around four minutes left,” Coloney said. “We stayed in man as long as we thought we could. We haven’t had to go to zone too much this season.”
McGraw got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“When we went to the zone press we were able to control the game,” said Harrisville junior guard Peyton Schmitt, who led all scorers with 18 points and added 10 rebounds for a doubledouble. “We have to stay under control and not force things. I think experience in games at this level can be a factor. We needed to get back to the Final Four; we have unfinished business.”
Sullivan totaled 16 points and Weaver netted 15 points for the Pirates.
Senior guard Kevin Shorts led the Eagles with 15 points and added two steals while Curtis scored 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Pickert and Peterson added 10 points each, with seven and six rebounds, respectively.
McGraw had its own unfinished business coming into the season after a 30-point loss to Central Counties League foe Madison in last year’s sectional championship game. Martins’ team got revenge with a 54-53 win over the Blue Devils last week to wear the sectional crown this time around.
“The kids were down after this hard loss, but today they came back and stayed together as a team,” Martins said. “I congratulated them on a great season that exceeded expectations; it was a great season, with a great group of guys on the team. The main goal was attained, and though we would have liked to have won this one, it wasn’t to be.”
The state Class D semifinals and championship game will take place this weekend at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton. Harrisville will meet Section 6 champion Buffalo East in a 9:30 a.m. semifinal Friday after the Panthers improved to 18-6 Saturday with a 72-56 win over Clyde-Savannah from Section 5. The other D semi matches Newfield (22-2) against Section 7’s Moriah (24-0) at 11:15 a.m. Friday. Newfield beat Section 11’s Bridgehampton 61-44 Friday night, while on Saturday Moriah downed Section 2’s Whitehall 74-61. The championship game is set for 5:15 p.m. Saturday.