By Rob Potter
LOCH SHELDRAKE March 4, 2005 The Sullivan West and John S. Burke Catholic High School varsity boys basketball teams got to know each other pretty well this season.
Since both squads were in Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division IV, they played twice during the regular season. The Eagles won on their home court in Goshen, while the Bulldogs prevailed a few weeks later when the teams met at SW High School in Lake Huntington.
But Burke avenged that defeat by topping SW in the two biggest contests the teams played against each other. On February 18 at Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) in Loch Sheldrake, the Eagles rallied in the final minute to beat the Bulldogs, 42-39, in a one-game playoff for the Division IV title. On Wednesday night inside SCCCs Paul Gerry Fieldhouse, Burke rallied from a double-digit first quarter deficit to defeat SW 72-64 and capture the Section IX Class B championship.
With the victory, Burke (16-6) advances to play Section I champion JFK Somers in a state tournament quarterfinal game tonight at SUNY New Paltz. SW ends its season with a record of 17 wins and 5 losses.
However, in the first period of Wednesday nights title game, it looked like the Bulldogs would be the Section IX representative in the state tourney.
After falling behind 2-0 in the opening minute, SW made the majority of its shots and played solid defense to grab the games momentum and a 10-point lead heading into the second period. Senior guards Sean Kelly and Joe Meyer each nailed a 3-point shot from the corner of the court and John Nober and Derek Hahn scored inside the lane as the Bulldogs turned a 3-2 lead into a more comfortable 22-12 advantage.
The final basket of the quarter caused the dozens of SW fans sitting in the bleachers, as well as the SW coaches and players who were sitting on the bench, to leap to their feet and cheer loudly. After Burkes Kyle Murtagh made a short jump shot with approximately three seconds remaining in the period to bring the Eagles to within seven points (19-12), SWs Kevin Cappiello made a long-distance 3-point shot. As the scoreboard clock counted down to all zeros, Cappiello heaved the ball towards the Bulldogs basket while he was standing well beyond halfcourt. The ball hit the backboard and fell through the net just as the buzzer sounded.
But whatever momentum the Bulldogs gathered from Cappiellos incredible shot was quickly quelled by Burke. Following a Meyer 3-pointer that extended the SW lead to 25-12, guards Dan Burke and Johnny LaFrance led the Eagles on a 13-0 scoring run over a six-minute span to knot the game at 25-25. Each team registered four more points in the final minute to tie the score at 29-29 entering halftime.
After the intermission, Burke surged toward victory behind junior guard Jason Green and junior forward Andrew Jackson. The two teammates combined to score 23 points in the second half as the Eagles grabbed a 43-42 lead at the end of the third period and extended that advantage to as many as 13 points in the final quarter.
Jackson finished the evening with a team-high 15 points, while Green and LaFrance each recorded 14 points. Murtagh and Burke added nine and seven points, respectively, for the Eagles.
When we were tied 29-29 at halftime I told the guys in the locker room that we had taken their best shot, Burke Coach Chris Neidig said. I told them to go out and give them our best shot in the second half and we would see what happened.
What Neidig saw was his team outscore the Bulldogs 43 to 35 in those final two quarters. But the second-year coach admitted that there were a few nervous moments on the path to victory.
Sean Kelly is a great, great player, Neidig said of SWs senior guard. It seemed like every time we tried to extend the lead, he would score a basket to bring them closer.
After playing the Bulldogs four times this season and defeating them in three of those contests, it was clear that the Burke helmsman has a great deal of respect for SW.
My hats off to Sullivan West, Neidig said. They competed very well and they are a great team. You had two great teams playing here tonight and its sad that one of them is going home.
SW Coach Rick Ellison noted that he was happy to have an early lead but was worried as well.
I didnt like the pace were playing at, I wanted to slow it down a bit, he said. We were playing a tempo that Burke enjoys. They were able to improve their defense and get out and run and close the gap. They are more athletic than we are.
The veteran coach called Burkes second quarter run the key to the game.
He also praised the second-half performance by Green and Jackson.
They are Burkes best players, Ellison said. Basically their two best athletes came through in the clutch.
I give a lot of credit to Burke, Ellison continued. They are a great team. They beat us three times this season, so they were the better team.
While the championship games outcome was not exactly the way that he, Assistant Coaches Cliff Kelly and Bob Menges and the players wanted to end the season, Ellison said that it was a good season overall.
Our goal all along was to get to this game, he said. In many ways, it was a better season than we could have imagined. We only lost to two teams twice to Cornwall and three times to Burke. We played one of our better schedules and had some very exciting games.
Sean Kelly scored a game-high 26 points, while Meyer netted 10 points and Joe Winski added eight points for the Bulldogs.
They were the better team, Sean Kelly said of Burke. We had a good lead early, but you cant expect to blow out a great team like that. You know they are going to come back.
While the contest was the final scholastic game for Kelly and fellow seniors Meyer, Nober, Justin Polizzi, Sean Semenetz, Andre Trujillo and Winski, he was able to put the evening into prospective.
When you sit back and think about it, you realize its just a basketball game, Kelly said. Granted you want to win you want to win bad but it the end its just a game.