January 20, 2022

Cincy boys exceeding expectations

In dream season, Lions go from one of worst teams to No. 9 in state Class D poll

Paul Cifonelli/sports editor

The Cincinnatus boys basketball team is shown after beating Fabius-Pompey to win the Fabius-Pompey Sports Boosters Holiday Tournament Dec. 29 at Fabius-Pompey High School. The Lions are 7-1.

“In basketball, we’ve never really had a successful program,” Cincinnatus senior Cason Stafford said before the season. “But this year we’re loaded with seniors, so I think this is finally our chance to go at it and get a sectional title maybe.”

The Cincinnatus boys basketball team has turned from one of the worst teams in the Center Counties League to one of the top Class D teams in the state in just one season.

The Lions went 2-3 in the shortened 2020-21 season and were 5-15 in 2019-20.

Now, they sit at 7-1, good for third in Section III Class D, and are the No. 9 team in the New York Sportswriters Association’s Class D poll.

“We didn’t really know what we had,” Cincinnatus head coach Jim Halstrom said. “We knew we had athletes and we knew we had seniors, some guys with experience, but with how it’s all came together, we’re much better than we thought we’d be.”

With the record and ranking, Cincinnatus could face more pressure. The Lions now have the target on their backs, a change from prior seasons.

“It’s weird to feel that (pressure) because we’ve gone from losing records every season to now being up with the big dogs,” senior Kooper Vosburg said. “It’s kind of crazy to just wrap my head around that.”

The Lions haven’t just been winning — they’ve been dominating. Cincinnatus has an average margin of victory of 19.5 points.

That’s been a result of a potent offense that can put up points in a hurry meshing with an aggressive defense that forced quick decisions by opponents.

Senior Scott Schuyler leads the team in scoring at 18.1 points per game.

Cason Stafford and Tyler Liddle both sit at 10.1 points per game, Canden Stafford averages 9.0 points and Vosburg pitches in 7.9 points per contest.

Those five players are the starters for Cincinnatus and rarely come out. All except for Canden Stafford are seniors and have played on the varsity team for three years.

That cohesion has been integral to the Lions’ hot start to the 2021-22 season.

“It’s been a pleasure just to be with the same guys that I’ve been with since 8th grade,” Liddle said. “We’ve all grown closer together because we do soccer, baseball and basketball together. We’re all close friends and we all have that close bond.”

The highlight of Cincinnatus’ season so far has been its upset win over DeRuyter. The home win snapped the Rockets’ 39-game win streak and put the Lions in a tie for first place with Madison, the only team Cincinnatus has lost to.

The excitement of that win still sits with Lions players even though the game happened on Dec. 21.

“It’s one of the biggest wins for me in my high school career for all sports, but for basketball it’s definitely the big gest,” Cason Stafford said. “It’s always been a rivalry (with DeRuyter) in soccer, but in basketball they’ve always just killed us. We really went out there and gave it our all and beat them. It was a great feeling.”

The win over DeRuyter looks great on paper, but to Halstrom, it shows the resolve his team has and their ability to overcome adversity.

“Right before halftime, we started to lose it a little bit mentally,” Halstrom said. “We were down seven. We made some mistakes we usually don’t make. At halftime, we talked about starting over. ‘It’s 0-0 right now and we’ve got to win each quarter.’ It was incredible for our guys because midway through the third quarter they realized, ‘we can do this.’”

Despite the great start, Cincinnatus isn’t perfect. The Lions have some things they can work on to become even better.

“I think we’ve got to hit the boards harder and get some more rebounds,” Schuyler said. “I think if we keep pushing the pace, keep going after it on defense we can make a run at it come sectional time.”

With the way they’ve played, Cincinnatus looks to be a serious contender for the Section III Class D title. Despite that, Halstrom isn’t letting his guys get ahead of themselves and are making sure they continue to earn every win they get.

“We’re still taking it game by game,” Halstrom said. “When we get in close games, we’ve got to learn how to prevail. We did that against DeRuyter, but we didn’t do it against Madison. That’s what we’ve got to figure out in the next few games. Then, we look toward the finish line.”