ONEONTA — It was not a perfect Marathon boys’ varsity basketball team that took the floor inside SUCO Oneonta’s Dewar Arena for Saturday’s Section 4 Class D championship game against South Kortright.
The defending Class D champion had three starters under the weather and one still favoring a sore ankle, but it didn’t matter as the top-seeded Olympians rallied for a 51-45 victory over the second-seeded Rams to repeat as champion. This is now two straight soccer and basketball sectional championships for a group of seniors that started their varsity careers with an 0-20 freshmen hoop team.
It took a second half comeback to win the game. Andrew Tillotson scored nine of his team high 16 points in the fourth quarter. Diego Castellot had nine of his 10 points during the second half rally and Kenyon DePuy netted six of his nine points in the final quarter. It certainly was a day for the seniors.
“It feels great,” DePuy said. “We knew we had to win because we wanted to defend our title. We came out a little slow, but we came out of the locker room after having a little talk. We knew we had to go as hard as we could.”
“We’ve all stepped up in different games this season,” Tillotson said. “It all depends on the game, but one person always seems to step up more than another. That’s just how this team works. When we all come together and play well we’re unstoppable.”
“This is amazing, it’s unreal because we were 0-20 just a few years ago and now we’ve won back to back titles,” Castellot said. “Everyone feels the pressure, but it’s just how we each handle it. We handle it better than some other teams.”
The stage was set in the first half for the Olympians’ rally. South Kortright (20-3 overall) took a 16-10 lead in the first quarter and pushed the advantage to 26-18 by halftime. A 3-pointer by Owen Hoyt tied the game at 16-16 for Marathon with 7:10 left in the half, but South Kortright was controlling the rebounds and getting some easy inside looks in the paint. The Rams closed out the half with a 10-2 run.
Marathon was not only battling the tough Rams team, but those outside factors of being ill and slightly injured.
“A few guys of our guys were definitely sick coming into today’s game, but we make no excuses,” Tillotson said. “We play as hard as we can with the people with have. That’s how we get the job done.”
“I know the sickness and the guys are still a little injured with ankles, but they realized in the second half that that is not the way Marathon should be playing,” Olympians coach Jim Holland said. “I give those seniors a lot of credit.”
Marathon (19-3) started the third quarter with an 11-0 to take 29-26 lead. Tillotson started the run with a layup. Hoyt (eight points) and Castellot buried 3-pointers to tie the game at 26-26 before a DePuy free throw gave the Olympians their first lead at 27-26 with 4:39 left in the quarter. A drive in the lane by Castellot made it 29-26 with 3:49 left in the quarter.
South Kortright answered with two jumpers by Seth Ashline to retake a 30-29 advantage, but Castellot found an opening and drove the lane again with four seconds left. He made the shot, was fouled and sank the free throw. The Olympians led 32-20. South Kortright had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but DePuy blocked Ashline’s layup attempt to keep Marathon in front by two points.
The fourth quarter saw both teams trading points. DePuy got the Olympians started with a jam and Tillotson followed with a steal and layup for a 36-30 lead. The Rams answered with a spinner in the paint by Hunter Collins as he was fouled. Collins made the free throw and Ashline added two free throws with 5:24 remaining to pull South Kortright to within 36-35. Conor Holland (eight points) got open at the top of the key and drained a 3-pointer to give Marathon a 39-35 advantage.
With 1:58 remaining, Marathon led 40-38 until DePuy scored in the paint and added the free throw because he was fouled on the play to give the Olympians a 43-28 lead. Tillotson delivered the 3-point dagger from the right corner 27 seconds later for a 46-38 advantage with 1:31 to play.
“It always feels go to hit the shot when you need it the most,” Tillotson said. “I had a similar shot like that last year. It makes me feel better when I make it and it makes my teammates feel better. We just all play better to close out games.”
“We had a couple of big threes in the second half that nailed things for us,” Coach Holland said. “Conor hit one of them and Tilley’s (Tillotson) in the corner was the dagger.”
Tillotson made four free throws down the stretch and Castellot added one charity toss for the final six point win.
“It’s chemistry,” DePuy said. “We know each other and we’re all friends in school. We work with each other whether it’s free throws or 3-pointers. We’ve felt the pressure before and we know what it is like. We’ve had bigger crowds than this so we know what it’s like. You really don’t feel the pressure, but I did a little bit today. All that matters is we came out on top.”
“We play bigger teams all season so when we play talented teams like South Kortright, we keep our composure and we can comeback no matter what the deficit,” Tillotson said.
“I can’t separate the five tonight in the second half because they all did well,” Coach Holland said. “The four seniors did so much better between the rebounding and playing better on the offensive side. I just told them at halftime that 18 points wasn’t going to cut it against these guys (South Kortright).”
Collins had a game-high 17 points to lead South Kortright. Ashline finished with nine points while four other players each netted four points for the Rams.
It will be a short break for Marathon as the Olympians have a NYSPHSAA sub-regional playoff game Tuesday. Marathon will face Children’s Village from Section 1 with a 6:30 p.m. tipoff at Windsor High School. Children’s Village is in Dobbs Ferry.