November 27, 2021

Rare pairing: Purple Tigers top Marathon

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CORTLAND — Travel restrictions on New York high school sports teams due to the coronavirus pandemic have the potential to create matchups fans normally wouldn’t see.

One of those matchups took place Wednesday night at Cortland High, where the Cortland Purple Tigers defeated the Marathon Olympians, 58-41, in their first meeting in seven years.

The Purple Tigers only led 24-20 at halftime, but as the second half progressed, they used their depth and size advantages to wear out the Olympians, force them into one-and-done possessions and eventually pull away.

“It was a great game,” Marathon coach Jim Holland said. “[We] played close until about four minutes left in the game. Cortland then used its size and bench to extend the lead to 10 points. We made some mistakes down the last stretch of the game and we missed some opportunities that would have kept the game within reach. My kids just got tired at the end and Cortland grabbed some big threes late by Gambitta on kickouts that just deflated us.”

Marathon’s Conor Holland led all scorers with 24 points, and Nate Walker chipped in 11. Three players scored double figures for Cortland — Noah Armstrong (17 points), Max Gambitta (14 points, including four three-pointers) and Colter Gohs (12 points).

Teams are restricted to games against teams in contiguous counties or sections. That allows Marathon, a Class D team located in Section IV but in Cortland County, to play against a Class A team in Cortland.

One could consider this game a measuring stick for the Olympians, one of the best teams in Class D. And as far as coach Holland is concerned, he doesn’t care how large the schools his team plays are, as long as they’re quality competition.

“I always want to play good programs even if they are larger,” coach Holland said. “Marathon normally plays Oneonta every year before sectionals. We have not beaten Oneonta yet, nor have we had any success against Cortland. But I like to play these games. As a coach I learn a lot from the experience. I understand that many people feel the games are a waste but it gives our small town players a look at different levels of talent. I wish we could have played last year. I think it would have been close.”

The experience of playing against a school with roughly six times as many students was worth it, according to both coach Holland and his son Conor.

“Playing Cortland tonight was obviously a much bigger game for us than for them,” coach Holland said. “Personally, my son really looked forward to the game to see how we measured up. Most of the games I’ve coached against them in the past have been okay. We lose every time but all in all my kids thought tonight was fun.”

“Despite knowing Marathon is a smaller class, we knew they still had great athletes, we knew that the past two-years the Olympians advanced deep into states, and we knew that there is quality coaching,” Purple Tigers coach Jeremy Milligan said. “We wanted good competition, and we got it.”