HERKIMER, NY– Just ask Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri or Springfield’s “Diamond” Joe Quimby from “The Simpsons”– running a city is hard work.
It can’t be much easier when you have to run a boys’ basketball team either.
Such is the case with Herkimer head coach Mark Blask, who not only runs the Magicians, but also the neighboring city of Little Falls as its mayor. However, Blask doesn’t see basketball as work, but as his escape from work.
“Basketball allows me to take a break from running a city,” Blask said. “Both jobs are really fun though.”
It was certainly fun on Thursday night for Blask, as senior center Andrew Mason poured in 24 for the Magicians (2-0), who needed all four quarters to knock off West Canada Valley, 67-61. Derek Newman, in a supporting role, put in 19 for Herkimer, including the last three in the final second of the contest.
Indians junior Matt Tobin was no slouch either in the first game for West Canada Valley (0-1), pulling in 19 points of his own in a losing effort, keeping the game in the balance until the last few seconds. However, win or lose, Tobin was satisfied with his team’s effort in their debut.
“We weren’t worried about the outcome,” Tobin said, “we just wanted to play hard. It was a tough loss, but I felt good with how we played.”
From the outset, however, the Magicians looked to pull away like they did in their upset of defending sectional finalist New York Mills on Tuesday. Mason helped them do just that, scoring the first four points and eight of the first ten as Herkimer started on a 6-0 run after the Indians took an early 1-0 lead on a free throw. Mason would finish with eight of Herkimer’s 17 points in the first period, and he and senior Nick Ferri would be the only players with more than two field goals in the quarter.
However, Mason still believed there was work to do. “We had a few mishaps, but we’re just going to get better and better,” Mason said of his team’s performance. “I thought we all stepped up tonight…I’m so proud of my team.”
The Indians showed full teamwork, spreading their points around between all their starters. As a matter of fact, no Indian had more than three points and one field goal after the period ended. Despite that, West Canada Valley managed to keep pace with the Magicians, finding themselves down only four, 17-13 going into the break.
West Canada managed to cut the lead down to one early in the second quarter, as a three-pointer by Collin Williams would make the score 17-16 early on. However, from there, the West Canada Valley shooters went cold, not scoring until the three-minute mark of the quarter. Meanwhile, the baskets continued to fall for Herkimer, as they would go on another 6-0 run to extend the lead to seven, 23-16.
A scary moment occurred early on in the second, as West Canada Valley senior Travis Comins would be hit in the head and fall to the ground for several minutes. He would walk off the court under his own power; however, he would not return to the game.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Indians soldiered on, but were stymied by the big men for Herkimer, Mason and fellow senior center Josh Wilcox. They were able to neutralize the Indians’ small, speedy lineup and use their size to their advantage, keeping the Indians off the scoredboard with key rebounds and blocks.
“We run 6-5, 6-6 usually,” Blask said. “It allows us to go over the top, and we were able to do that today.”
Another thing that doomed the Indians was the situation at the free throw line. West Canada Valley went 4-11 on free throws, while the Magicians went 7-17 in the first half. That meant the fouls began to rack up for the Indians, with junior Cory Collard picking up four fouls even before the halftime break. For West Canada Valley head coach Dustin Cool, that proved to be big near the end.
“We had some big shots, but we didn’t execute down the road,” Cool said. “We missed one-and-ones, we missed twos [two free throws]…that was the difference.”
It didn’t get much better to start the second half, as the Indians went scoreless for almost two minutes to start the third quarter. However, the Magicians were unable to pull away, scoring only two in that time and allowing Tobin’s three-pointer to bring the Indians’ deficit back to one.
However, the fouls continued to mount for West Canada Valley, as two more players would find themselves picking up their fourth fouls. Despite that, the Indians were able to get hot from long range, pouring in four threes to help West Canada Valley cut the lead to two late. They were able to get only their second lead of the game on another three from Williams and three the hard way from Tobin late. The Indians outscored Herkimer 22-14 in the third quarter to take a 48-46 lead heading into the final frame.
They would extend the lead early in the fourth quarter on the back of a 5-0 run to start the period. The Indians would try to put the Magicians away with long-distance shots, hitting three in the frame. Nonetheless, Herkimer continued to be resilient, trading baskets with the Indians all the way to the end. In the last three minutes, neither team held a lead of more than a basket.
In spite of that, the Indians went cold again in the final minute, throwing up desperate threes to quickly regain the lead. However, it would be Mason that gave Herkimer the lead for good, on a layup with nine seconds left to put the Indians away for good.
For Mason, who despite his performance on Tuesday, is not a captain, it was all about keeping his team calm and avoiding the mistake that might be the backbreaker. “I just kept supporting them as much as I could,” Mason said. “We’re all just one big family.”
For Cool, his Indians showed poise and skill in their debut. “For our first game, I was very happy,” Cool said. “We’re going in the right direction.”
Blask was quick to heap praise on his opponents, but sensed something bigger in the future. “This is turning into a really nice rivalry,” Blask said. “All credit to West Canada Valley though, they played great.”
If this is turning out to be one of the big rivalries in the Center State Conference, they started out with one to remember.
Herkimer Magicians 67, West Canada Valley Indians 61
Magicians 17 15 14 21 67
Indians 13 13 22 13 61
Herkimer Magicians (67)
AJ Rathbun 0 2-6 2, Billy Stark 0 3-4 3, Derek Newman 7 4-7 19, Nick Ferri 4 0-0 9, Josh Wilcox 3 4-6 10, Andrew Mason 11 2-7 24. Totals: 25 15-30 67.
West Canada Valley (61)
Travis Comins 1 0-0 3, Cade Smith 1 1-2 3, Matt Tobin 6 4-4 17, Collin Williams 4 2-2 12, Andrew Thomas 3 0-1 8, Mason Schloop 0 1-6 1, Jacob Smith 4 1-2 12, Ben Clarke 2 0-1 5. Total: 21 9-18 61.
Three Point Shots: West Canada Valley 10 (J. Smith 3, Williams 2, Thomas 2, Comins, Tobin, Clarke); Herkimer 2 (Newman, Ferri).
Halftime: Herkimer 32, West Canada Valley 26.
JV Score: Herkimer 60, West Canada Valley 49.