The fourth time was the postseason charm for the McGraw boys’ basketball team Saturday afternoon. If they can improve on that just a little this Sunday, the Eagles will be bringing home some Section 3 hardware.
Second-seeded McGraw beat No. 3 Sackets Harbor 64-58 in the Section 3 Class D semifinals to earn a berth in Sunday’s championship game against top-seeded Madison at 11 a.m. back inside OCC’s SRC Arena. It was the Eagles’ fourth trip to the D semis in the last five years, the others resulting in losses to Cincinnatus (63-47) in 2013, Oriskany (62-59 in overtime) in 2014 and Sackets Harbor (77-65) in 2015.
The title contest will be the third meeting this season between Central Counties League rivals McGraw, now 19-3 and the 15th-ranked D team in the state, and Madison, which sits atop the state poll and improved to 23-0 with an 82-51 dismantling of fourth-seeded New York Mills in the other semifinal. The Blue Devils won 72-67 in overtime Feb. 1 in McGraw and 88-62 on their home floor six days later.
Sunday’s game will mark the first time ever that two CCL teams have met for the sectional crown.
McGraw has never won a Section 3 basketball championship while Madison was the Class D-2 champion in 1991.
Saturday’s game featured eight ties and seven lead changes. and it wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Eagles were able to take the lead for good. They trailed 37-36 when senior guard Devon Tuttle drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, was fouled and hit the free throw to make it 40-37 for McGraw, where it stood heading into the fourth quarter.
After a driving layup by Eagles senior guard Carter Towsley to make it 42-37 and a missed trey by the Patriots, Tuttle, who led McGraw with 13 points, connected on another long-distance shot to give the winners what at the time was their biggest lead, at 45-37. They led by as many as nine points, on a layup by junior guard Kevin Shorts with 5:58 left.
Sackets Harbor, which finished the season 16-7, could get no closer than four the rest of the way, both times on free throws by junior guard Eric Fillingham in the waning moments of the game.
As for how his team was finally able to take control of the game, Eagles coach Matt Martins said that “To me it was the effort situation; in the third quarter our effort picked up. Our defensive effort, we were moving better offensively, and those things made the difference and allowed us to pull away just a little bit in the third quarter. The four-point play by Devon was the kind of momentum swing we needed in key points in the game to keep us going.
“Playing on a bigger court, we knew that we wanted to shuttle players in an out so we could have fresher legs toward the end. The bench — especially Chris Pickert (sophomore forward), Chase Curtis (sophomore forward) and Carter Towsley (senior guard) — really came through and gave us critical minutes when we needed them.”
All three played a role in McGraw’s balanced offense. While senior forward Jordan Cowen was the only other Eagle in double figures with 11 points, Pickert and Curtis added eight each and Towsley scored seven, as did junior starting forward Dakota Stauber. The reserves were also important because both Cowen and senior center David Smith got into first-half foul trouble and eventually ended up fouling out — Smith with 4:24 left in the game and Cowen with just 32 seconds remaining.
“After some clutch shots we started pulling away,” Tuttle said, noting that he wasn’t just referring to his own shots. “They kind of gave up, it seemed, and we controlled the pace of the game.”
“Playing lockdown defense was a key for us,” Cowen said. “In the first half we weren’t passing as well as we can, and at halftime we talked about it. We knew we had to get our heads in the game and start playing like we know we can. Our passing, shooting and defense all got
Sackets Harbor led 17-13 after one quarter, taking its biggest lead of the game, at 17-9, on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Jeffery Fields with 2:08 left in the stanza. The contest was tied five times in the second quarter, with the Eagles taking a 29-28 lead into halftime.
Berie finished with a game-high 26 points, including five-3-pointers, for the Patriots, who also got 13 points from senior center Pat Harrienger and 11 points from junior guard Eric Fillingham.
The majority of McGraw’s players were also part of the school’s first Section 3 Class D boys’ soccer championship this past fall. That, according to their coach, has helped instill a stronger winning attitude.
“It’s something you can’t coach,” Martins said. “Some opposing coaches have asked me, ‘Don’t your guys ever give up?’ No. They don’t care if they’re down by two or 20, they are going to go 100 percent no matter what. It’s that winning attitude that carried over, and it’s really surprised me.”
MADISON OUTSCORED New York Mills 30-13 in the third quarter to pull away from what had been a tie game, 27-27, at halftime. Sam Matteson led the Blue Devils with a career-high 34 points, 17 in the third, while Tyler Hummer had 18 points and Spencer Haviland scored 12.
“We might be the underdog, but that just means we have nothing to lose,” Martins said. “We didn’t respond well in the last game with them.”
“If we go out and play our ‘A’ game, I think we can win,” Tuttle said. “We’ve known from the start of sectionals that we were going to face Madison (for the championship).”
“Our first game with Madison was a good one, and after the second one we have a little revenge mentality,” Cowen said. “We want to prove ourselves. It’s great to have two CCL teams in the final.”
“It’s going to be tough,” Madison coach Dan Mitchell said of the title game. “McGraw is playing well. That’s a good team, and we are too. The third time is going to be a battle. We got off to a hot start in Madison and didn’t let up. We were up by 14 in the first game but they took over in the third and fourth quarters.”
In a sidemote, after Saturday’s losses this will be the first year since 2003 that neither Sackets Harbor nor New York Mills appears in the sectional D final.