SYRACUSE – On paper, the Section III Class C championship on Sunday at the Carrier Dome was supposed to come down to the two biggest men on the court: Tully’s 6-foot-9 dynamo in Joe Crawford versus Cooperstown’s 6-8 bruiser in Owen Kennedy. This was the third consecutive final between the two, and it looked to be explosive from the get-go.
“This is three years in a row that the two of them have squared off,” Tully head coach (and Section III Class C Coach of the Year) Ryan Dando said. “Kennedy really played well, but neither kid came out of the game. They both played for 32 minutes.”
They played for 32 minutes, but in the end, it all came down to the last four seconds and players who were almost a foot shorter.
The Black Knights endured a furious rally by the defending Class C champions, being outscored 19-8 in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, the third time was the charm, and the Black Knights walked off the court with a 49-48 victory and a Class C banner. Kennedy and Crawford did not disappoint either, with a combined 33 points (Kennedy winning that battle, 24-9). Jake Edinger was the man of the moment, however, going up for eight rebounds and 16 points to help him make the Section III All-Tournament Team.
“We knew we had to shut down Kennedy,” Edinger said of the Hawkeyes’ senior (who also made the All-Tournament Team with junior Jack Lambert). “We knew we had to be defending the arc too. They have shooters, we knew we had to cover everyone.”
From the opening tip, that was exactly what the Black Knights did, holding Kennedy to just one block and no points for a fair amount of the first quarter. As a matter of fact, the Hawkeyes went stone-cold from the floor, shooting a dismal 15 percent and going scoreless for the first five minutes of the game, broken by a layup by junior Noah Lifgren. Meanwhile, Tully’s offense was red-hot, getting points from four different players in a 14-2 run to start the game.
On defense, true to Edinger’s word, Tully’s defense, led by Crawford and senior Thomas Morse, bullied Kennedy for most of the quarter. The Black Knights would only allow Kennedy a layup with just 12 seconds left in the quarter to make the score 14-4 at the first quarter buzzer.
The two big men would trade blocks to start the second quarter, but it would be the Black Knights that would come roaring out of the gate, scoring the first five points of the second quarter as well. It would be over two minutes before the unusually-stagnant long-range shooting would come alive for Cooperstown (they had gone 0-2 in the first quarter), on the hands of junior Calvin Sandler. Freshman Spencer Lewis would try to put a spark in the Cooperstown offense, hitting a three-pointer of his own to cut the lead to 11 late in the first half.
Unfortunately, Tully’s stifling 2-3 defense continued to give the Hawkeyes problems. The Black Knights forced two big Cooperstown turnovers that could have potentially cut the lead to single digits and used them to their own advantage, extending the lead to 16 before the halftime break.
“We just tried to get plays to the rim,” Dando said, “and then it was just defense. We rotated around, trying to stop the big play. … They have a lot of offensive weapons.”
One of those offensive weapons in Kennedy finally came alive for Cooperstown in the third quarter. The senior scored the first four points of the period to cut into the lead amid constant harassment from the Tully defense throughout, forcing bad passes and turnovers from everywhere as they sped around, picking up almost every loose ball. Despite all of that, Kennedy continued to be a force under the basket, scoring 12 of the Hawkeyes’ 15 points (the other three coming from Lewis). Cooperstown would outscore the Black Knights 15-11 in the quarter to cut the lead to 12 as their scorers finally got hot, shooting 47 percent from the field.
“Owen played really well,” Cooperstown head coach David Bertram said. “They [Kennedy and Crawford] were both blocking shots, [but Owen] was pumping them up on the sidelines all day.”
“They’re too good, too well coached … we knew they’d go on a run,” Dando said. “The key was to keep grinding and keep running.”
Junior Jack Lambert would take center stage in the fourth quarter, starting off with a quick layup to cut the lead to 10 just a few seconds into the final period. In the meantime, the rest of the Hawkeyes, including the student section, turned the heat up with every trip down the court, holding the Black Knights to one point for most of the quarter. Tully would only make three shots in the period, shooting only 25 percent in the period while their margin got smaller and smaller.
Kennedy would end up being another problem for the Black Knights, scoring six straight points on his own to cut the lead to four halfway through the final quarter. His seventh and eighth points would tie it up, while Lambert hit a big shot from mid-range to give the Hawkeyes their first lead with just three minutes left. However, neither Dando nor Edinger were worried that the Black Knights would come away with the win.
“Coach was just hyping us up, telling us to play smart,” Edinger said.
Despite the fact that Tully was being outscored 15-3 in the quarter, it was a back-and-forth affair for the final two minutes of the game, with Cooperstown only able to pick up a four point lead. It would come down to that final minute, as Crawford, along with fellow senior Dante Cuttino, scored the only baskets and tried to keep the ball out of the Hawkeyes’ hands. However, with just four seconds left, a jump-ball call gave Cooperstown possession with a chance for some last-minute drama.
Unfortunately for Bertram and the Hawkeyes, it was not meant to be, as a mid-range shot by Lambert fell tragically short as the buzzer sounded and the court flooded with jubilant Black Knights.
“We knew we needed to make changes,” Bertram said. “We just made them too late. They make a couple of shots, a couple of loose balls go their direction, it’s a different game. That was a tough one to swallow.”
“It’s like a dream come true,” Edinger said of finally getting over the three years of futility. “There were a lot of obstacles, but we fought through them all. It always feels good to come out on top, especially against Cooperstown. … It was our time.”
With the win, the Black Knights finally pick up a Class C banner and extend their season by at least one game. They will face Section IV Class C champion Unadilla Valley, who knocked off Tioga on Sunday, 58-48. However, the prospect of a state championship for the Black Knights is still far over the horizon.
“It feels great. … I’m really happy for the kids. They put in the work, I’m proud of them, and we told them they have to enjoy it,” Dando said. “There’s a lot of kids that got us to this point. We focus on one game at a time…’C’ is a very competitive class.”
“Our goal is to take it one day at a time,” Edinger said. “We’ll keep fighting, keep grinding and chase that state title.”
Meanwhile, Bertram will say goodbye to three seniors, including Kennedy, who will walk off Jim Boeheim Court at the Carrier Dome having gone to three straight sectional finals.
“I’m proud of all of them, coming back from a deficit like that,” Bertram said. “The biggest word I used was I’m proud of them that they got this far.”
Even so, as they say in sports, two out of three isn’t bad, and this is certainly true for the Cooperstown Hawkeyes.
Tully Black Knights 49, Cooperstown Hawkeyes 48
Section III Class C Championship
Black Knights 14 16 11 8 49
Hawkeyes 4 10 15 19 48
Tully Black Knights (49)
Jake Edinger 5 4-6 16, Tyler Edinger 3 2-4 10, Colum Swan 1 0-0 3, Joe Crawford 4 1-5 9, Evan Rapp 1 0-0 2, Dante Cuttino 4 1-2 9, Thomas Morse 0 0-2 0. Totals: 18 8-19 49.
Cooperstown Hawkeyes (48)
Calvin Sandler 1 0-0 3, Jack Lambert 5 2-2 13, Noah Lifgren 1 0-0 2, Spencer Lewis 2 0-0 6, Owen Kennedy Jr. 11 2-4 24. Totals: 20 4-6 48.
Three-Point Field Goals: Tully 5 (J. Edinger 2, T. Edinger 2, Swan), Cooperstown 4 (Lewis 2, Sandler, Lambert).
Total Fouls: Tully 14, Cooperstown 14.
Total Rebounds: Tully 46 (23 defensive, 23 offensive), Cooperstown 38 (27 defensive, 11 offensive).
Turnovers: Cooperstown 11, Tully 9.
Halftime: Tully 30, Cooperstown 14.