By Ted Waddell
GLENS FALLS March 18, 2003 The dream turned into a nightmare.
The Fallsburg Comets hopes of grabbing the brass ring at the 2003 New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) boys basketball championships came to a crashing halt Friday night as the Comets were crushed 69-53 by the Centaurs of Buffalo City Honors High School.
The contest, like all of the other semifinal and championship games in Classes A through D, was held at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
City Honors (21-4) devastated Fallsburg (17-6) with their blazing quickness on the floor, causing Comets coach Paul Marsden to call the Centaurs the fastest team his squad faced all year.
And what a season it was for Fallsburg. Going into the Class C semifinal against City Honors, the Comets were riding a five-game winning streak, including two state tourney victories.
These kids accomplished things that nobodys ever done before at Fallsburg High School, said Marsden. Not their older brothers, not their cousins . . . nobody.
On the way to the final four, Fallsburg senior guard Jon Hinton scored a game-high 25 points in the Comets 65-47 win over East Rockaway on March 7 in the state quarterfinals at SUNY Old Westbury.
But on Friday, it didnt happen as City Honors mounted a strong defense and Hinton struggled from outside the arc, although his 3-pointer closed Fallsburgs deficit to 31-30 with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.
And that was as close as the Comets got in the game.
The Crusaders opened with a 9-0 run in the first period and a layup by Erik Roberson at the 4:06 mark made it a 13-4 game.
In the second period, Fallsburg closed the gap to 17-13 and shaved City Honors lead to a single digit a couple of times (22-21 and 26-25), but couldnt seem to get over the hump as the Crusaders took a 28-25 halftime lead into the locker room.
In the third quarter, City Honors shut down Fallsburgs hopes of making it to the championship round. After Hintons 3-pointer made it a 31-30 game, the Crusaders closed out the quarter with a 13-point run to take a 44-30 advantage into the final eight minutes of play.
In that fourth period, Hinton made it a 55-48 contest with a shot outside the arc with 2:18 left on the game clock, but it was a classic case of too little, too late.
Up in the stands, the Fallsburg fans refused to call it quits.
Folks with their faces painted yellow and black in recognition of the schools colors cheered while James Hinton, the father of the Comets 3-point ace Jon Hinton yelled, Jon, you gotta shoot the ball . . . ya gotta shoot the ball.
In a despiration move, Mardsen told his players to start fouling not an easy task in an aggressively fought battle on both side on the court.
At this level of competition, referees often have an attitude of let em play, and stuff their normally fast whistles with cotton as they let the bodies crash under the boards and burn on the floor.
In the final 1:38, City Honors went 10-of-10 at the free throw line, as the Comets faced the stark reality that their dream season was over.
Fallsburg, the NYSPHSAA Region 1 and Section IX Champions, showed a lot of class during the hard-fought game. Even in the closing moments as the pressure of a come- from-behind-win mounted to fever pitch intensity, they helped their teammates and opposing players up off the deck in the wake of crash andburn plays that left participants on both sides lying all over the hardwood floor.
Win or lose, youve got to show respect for yourselves and your opponents, Marsden said. Im thrilled they exhibited that.
Brandon McKenny led Fallsburg with 14 points and snatched six rebounds off the glass. Zaquan Hilliard, who was named to the all-tournament team, scored 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out three assists. Jon Hinton scored 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting. Lionel White added nine points for the Comets.
Drake Francescone, coach of the NYSPHSAA Region 4 Section VI Champion Centaurs, said the win was a good game on the way to the finals.
We had to work through some difficulties . . . like getting the ball into the shooters hands at the right time and spreading it out to attack a certain area . . . but we worked as a team to open it up, he said. It was a tough game that made us a better team.
White has a well-deserved reputation as a bull under the boards for the Comets.
They were quicker than us, he said. Everytime we scored, they came back on offense and set something up to score.
His take on making it to the state semifinals for the second time in school history?
(In 1982, the Comets advanced to the Class D Final Four, where they were defeated by Tuckahoe.)
As a senior, it felt good to make it this far, [and] I think we have enough talent to do it again next year.
After the game, Marsden retreated to the locker room for a few quiet moments with his team.
I told them its going to hurt like hell for a long time, but when they reflect back on this season, they should remember they did things nobodys done in a long, long time, he said. We came out tight in the first period, but came back in the second. In the third [period] we came out cold, and they came out hot . . . with two minutes to go [in the game] we were down by 10, and we just couldnt get over that . . . the ball wasnt falling for us.
After the locker room cleared out, the fans went home and the members of the media packed up their tents, Marsden sat on a bench in a corridor facing the arena and reflected on the season.
I couldnt be happier for these guys, he said. They worked so hard this year and got to play in the Final Four at Glens Falls. It seemed like a dream season, but it had to end sometime.