February 25, 2013


CHS can’t take final step

HoopsJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland High’s Josh Gutchess (4) lays in a basket against Bishop Ludden’s Zach Walser in the third quarter of Sunday’s Class A Sectional Semifinal at Onondaga Community College.

Staff Writer

SYRACUSE — Two big-time players stepped it up early Sunday evening, first to make and keep the Section 3 Class A boys’ basketball semifinal between Cortland High High and Bishop Ludden close down the stretch and, ultimately, to decide it at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena.
Purple Tigers senior guard Isaiah Prior scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the second half of what was a command performance, giving CHS the lead twice down the stretch.
Gaelic Knights junior forward Daniel Kaigler than took over in the waning moments, first with a block on a potential go-ahead shot by Cortland and then with an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, to help his second-seeded team to a 54-51 victory.
Bishop Ludden (18-2), which won the state Class B crown last season, will meet fourth-seeded New Hartford (17-3) for sectional Class A laurels in a 6:30 p.m. start this Sunday at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome. The Spartans advanced to the championship game with a 57-43 win over top-seeded Carthage (18-2) in the other A semifinal at SRC.
“I can’t take all the credit. My teammates did a good job of finding me for 3-pointers,” an obviously disappointed Prior said afterwards when asked about his impressive individual performance that included four treys. “Coach (Jeremy) Milligan has told me to push the ball all season, and I finally did like he said. Give him credit. He pushed me all season, and in listening to him I was able to do well like I did tonight.
“We knew that Kaigler would do a good job on the boards, but in the second half we did a good job of keeping him out of the paint. After the game at their place we knew what they were capable of, as a team and as individuals,” he added, CHS losing a close 57-51 visit to Ludden back on Jan. 11.
“Isaiah took over the game,” Coach Milligan said quietly after leading third-seeded CHS to a 17-3 record in his first season at the helm. “He showed how versatile he is, doing things he’s done all season long. He showed everyone here what he’s capable of doing against a great defense, and bigger players.”
“PRIOR IS A VERY talented high school player,” Gaelic Knights coach Pat Donnelly said. “The game came down to who made the plays down the stretch, and we were able to.”
The winners led 30-24 at the half and scored the first five points of the third quarter for their biggest lead, 35-24, 1:33 in. Cortland then upped the pressure with its ‘21’ half-court press defense and went on a 12-2 run, which opened with a pair of 3-pointers from Prior and closed on a short jumper he made from the right side, to make it 37-36 with 2:06 left in the stanza.
A foul shot by Ludden junior guard Ben Hackett with 1:27 left closed out the scoring in the period.
“Our half-court press really rattled them,” Milligan said. “We caused several turnovers.”
“We thought we were prepared for it,” Donnelly said of CHS’s press. “But they brought it up high and we started running away from the basketball. We just didn’t get the ball in the right areas.”
Cortland took its first lead since the early stages of the game when senior guard Zach Whalen buried a 3-pointer from the left corner with 4:16 left in the contest to make it 45-44 for CHS. After a shot-clock violation by the Gaelic Knights, Hackett made a steal and scored on a jumper to give his team a 46-45 lead with 3:24 remaining.
As the Purple Tigers brought the ball down the floor, Donnelly protested too vigorously about a perceived non-call and was whistled for a technical. Prior hit both shots with 3:18 left before Kaigler was called for goaltending on a layup by Hughes with 3:08 remaining, giving Cortland a 49-46 lead.
TWO FREE THROWS by Hackett and a layup by senior guard Antoine Montgomery — his only points of the game — put Ludden back up 50-49 before a good example of Milligan’s comment on Prior’s abilities against tough defenses and bigger players arrived. Prior drove from the right side, swept around Kaigler —who attempted to draw an offensive foul — and scored to give Cortland its last lead at 51-50 with 1:04 left.
Hackett, who finished with a team-high 18 points, then went virtually the length of the floor to make a layup breaking free after a missed CHS corner shot to give the Knights the lead for good at 52-51 with 39 seconds left.
CHS senior forward Brian Hughes looked to have an easy go-ahead basket on a drive from the left side before Kaigler recovered and blocked the shot with 13 seconds left. A subsequent foul sent Ludden sophomore forward Zach Walser to the line for a 1-and-1 with 11.8 seconds showing on the clock.
Walser made the first and missed the second. Kaigler controlled the crucial rebound, getting fouled and making the second of two free throws in the bonus situation to make it 54-51 with 8.5 seconds left.
Cortland advanced the ball to half-court and called timeout with 4.7 seconds remaining, Donnelly then doing the same. As play resumed Whelan, who finished with 11 points, was pressured in the right corner on a 3-point attempt and got off a shot that was partially deflected by Kaigler and fell short as the final buzzer went off.
“HE HAD A STEP on me, but I was able to recover and had the length to reach over and block the shot,” the 6 foot-6 inch Kaigler, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, five blocked shots and three assists, said of swatting away the shot by Whelan. “I knew I had to be aggressive and get to the loose ball on the rebound after the missed foul shot. This game showed the toughness of our team; we never gave up. We knew they weren’t going to quit, even down by 11. That’s a very good team, and we knew they’d play us tough. We just had to play tougher.”
“Coach told me, no matter what, to put my head down and keep playing hard,” Hackett said of his game-winner. “He told me that if I got the ball, to push it so I’d get fouled or make the shot. Cortland is a real good team, but I think we have a little more talent on our side.”
Ludden had a 29-25 rebounding advantage in the game, junior guard Teddy Phillips leading CHS with eight boards while Prior and Hughes had four each. Walser complemented Kaigler with five rebounds for the winners. Senior forward Josh Gutchess led the Purple Tigers in assists and steals, with three of each. Cortland went 17-for-53 from the field (32 percent) to the Gaelic Knights’ 20-for-40 (50 percent).
In closing, Prior noted: “I told my teammates that I couldn’t imagine playing for anyone else. It’s tough, but we gave it all we had. Next year the players who are back have to pick up where we left off and work hard in practice every day.”
“Cortland made the transition from Mick (Lowie) to Jeremy and didn’t miss a beat,” Donnelly said. “They played hard, and well. It’s tough to lose, but they should be proud. That’s a very good team.”
“I COULDN’T BE PROUDER of this team,” Milligan said. “All 12 players were into it and responded well. The bench players and the ones on the floor all kept their energy levels up. We got great leadership from our four seniors this season. Josh and Brian were more vocal while Isaiah and Justin (Sidebottom) were more vocal. All four really left their mark on our basketball program.
“I’m proud to have completed my first year as head coach continuing to maintain the intensity, competitive spirit and high-class basketball that Mick Lowie built for decades. My assistant coaches, Tom Neugebauer and Francis Loiacono, were invaluable with their suggestions and positive energy, maintaining good relationships with all the players.”


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