By Rob Potter
LOCH SHELDRAKE February 22, 2005 During the recently completed boys basketball regular season, the John S. Burke Catholic High School and Sullivan West teams won far more games than they lost.
And in Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division IV competition, the Eagles and Bulldogs defeated every team but each other. The two teams squared off twice during the 2004-2005 season, with Burke prevailing its own gymnasium and SW winning on its home court in Lake Huntington.
Because the Eagles and Bulldogs each posted 5-1 records within Division IV, they needed to meet in a playoff game to determine which team would claim the division title.
The two squads met in that title tilt in front of hundreds of fans on Friday night in Paul Gerry Fieldhouse on the Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) campus in Loch Sheldrake.
Not surprisingly, the outcome of the game was in doubt until the final seconds.
With 17.7 seconds left and the score knotted at 39-39, Burkes Andrew Jackson hit a 12-foot baseline jumper to give the Eagles a two-point lead.
SW (16-4) immediately got the ball upcourt and senior guard Sean Kelly drove into the lane. He lofted a shot towards the basket, but the ball bounced off the rim. In the scramble for the rebound, the officials ruled that the ball bounced off a Bulldog player before it sailed out of bounds.
The Eagles Brian DeStefano then inbounded the ball to teammate Josh LaFrance, who was immediately fouled by SWs Kevin Cappiello in an effort to preserve as much time on the clock as possible and allow the Bulldogs to regain possession of the ball after LaFrance visited the free-throw line. The junior guard missed his first foul shot, but he calmly swished the second to give Burke (15-6) a 42-39 lead with just 8.5 seconds remaining in the contest.
SW had one last chance to tie the score and force the game into overtime. Joe Meyer, who had brought the Bulldog fans to their feet by hitting a 3-point shot to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter, had control of the ball while standing outside of the 3-point arc. Meyer launched a shot with two seconds left. The ball hit the inside of the rim, bounced up and then harmlessly away from the hoop as the buzzer sounded.
The elated Burke players and cheerleaders began celebrating at halfcourt as the SW players, cheerleaders, coaches and fans shook their heads and pondered what might have been.
Andrew Jackson hit a great shot when we needed it, Burke Coach Chris Neidig said. And Johns foul shot was important too.
We made the big shots when we had to and they didnt, Neidig added. Its as simple as that.
During the first quarter, however, it did not look like either team would make many shots during the contest. Thirty-nine seconds into the game, Kelly swished a 3-pointer at the top of the key to give the Bulldogs a quick 3-0 lead. Nearly a minute later, Jackson scored to make it a 3-2 game.
But both teams went ice cold for the next five minutes. In what was probably a combination of good defense by both squads, nerves and getting used to playing on the SCCC court, the Bulldogs and Eagles missed several shots. SWs Sean Semenetz ended the scoring drought by draining a 3-point shot from the top of the key with 1:33 remaining in that opening period.
SW took the lead in the second quarter as both offenses began to find their rhythm. The Bulldogs offense clicked a little better as they took a 23-13 advantage on a Kelly 3-pointer with 2:12 remaining in the quarter.
Things were very even in the third quarter as each team scored nine points. At the end of those eight minutes, however, the Bulldogs still held a seven-point lead (32-25).
But Burke rallied in the fourth period. Junior forward Jason Green knotted the score at 33-33 by putting back a teammates miss with 4:59 remaining. Nearly two minutes later, the Eagles took their first lead of the night when LaFrance swished a pair of free throws. Those successful shots gave Burke a 36-35 advantage with 3:13 left on the clock.
The Eagles outscored the Bulldogs by a 17-7 margin in the pivotal fourth quarter.
They got the shots they needed in the fourth quarter, SW Coach Rick Ellison said. They really hustled in those last two quarters and made their best plays of the game.
I give Burke a lot of credit, he added. We are going to have to go back and break down the tape of this game. We have a lot of homework to do.
Kelly finished the evening with a game-high 15 points. Meyer recorded 12 points, while Semenetz and Derek Hahn added six points apiece for the Bulldogs.
Green paced the Burke offensive attack with 13 points. Jackson netted eight points and Kyle Byrons added seven.
Notes: With the victory, Burke claimed the top seed in this weeks Section IX Class B Tournament. The Bulldogs are the second seed in the tourney and will meet third-seeded Highland in a semifinal game at 7 p.m. Thursday at SCCC. The winner of the SW/Highland game will then face Burke in the title game, which is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on Monday, February 28 at SCCC.
While Ellison, Assistant Coach Cliff Kelly, Assistant Coach Bob Menges and the SW players were very disappointed with the loss, they are not going to dwell on it.
Highland is our only focus right now, Ellison said.