ROCHESTER?— Tears were nearly welling up in Hornell head coach Kirk Scholes’ eyes as he made his way from player to player in Dressing Room 3. Some players embraced one-another. Others sat slouched over in chairs, hands and warm-up gear covering their eyes. Others went about their somber way.
The Red?Raiders got another taste of Leadership Academy’s greatness Sunday afternoon as the Lions went on to hoist the Section V, Class B2 championship trophy with a 65-57 victory at the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.
“It’s just a group of kids that loves to be together. I think they’re starting to understand that we don’t get to go back to practice and play again,” Scholes said after stepping out of the room. “They played hard. It’s a great group of kids that has done a lot for this program. And they’ve done a lot for me in the last two years. My seniors were 8th-graders when I?took the program over and to watch them grow and do the things they did this year, I’m pretty proud of them.”
Leadership (15-6), a charter school which shares part of Charlotte High School, claims its first Section V title as well as a spot in next week’s Class B?playdown.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,”?Lions head coach Reggie Simmons said. “These young men have worked hard in the classroom and on the court. We finally pulled together as a team. It’s just through dedication and perseverance that we won this game.”
The Red Raiders, once able to stake claim to “shooting the lights out”?— they drained 21 3-pointers over two postseason playoff affairs —?were slightly warmer than a freezer Saturday afternoon. HHS ended up 6-for-21 from 3-point land, including an 0-for-5 effort out of senior Elliott Flint who had accounted for 10 previously.
“We missed some shots, but I thought we had a lot of good looks at the hoop,” Scholes said. “We did a lot of good things offensively. The shots just didn’t go in when we needed them to. And we couldn’t string many of them together, especially in the first half. It was a struggle to not turn it over in the first half and get good, quality shots every time down the floor. Sometimes that happens. But the kids played hard though. You can’t fault them for that.”
The Lions’ three-quarter court pressure forced the pace, while also creating a number of turnovers. It also limited Hornell’s ability to find rhythm and flow within its offense.
“Our ability to press them, make shots and, with the 3-2 zone, I think we challenged all their shooters. That was one of the biggest differences,” Simmons said.
““I knew that over time and throughout the course of the season, their shooters had become more proficient,” Simmons continued on. “When we developed the 3-2 on practice, my No. 1 task is to make sure those three shooters were covered. That’s why we pressured them, we didn’t want them to be able to run through any of their sets.”
Trailing by 15, the Red Raiders opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run beginning with a Richard Brooks’ steal and layup. Following a Flint floater, Brooks sank a 3-ball from the right wing and Isaac Bradley capped the scoring spree with a chippie in the center of the paint. Devante Hagins, the eventually Class B2 MVP, stopped the Lions’ bleeding momentarily, knocking down the back end of two-shot trip to the charity stripe. However, Brooks converted another layup and the Raiders found themselves down five, 40-35, just past the midway point of the period.
“We just decided that we weren’t going to quit,”?Scholes said when asked about how his team regrouped at halftime. “The goal was to try and have it down to eight at the four-minute mark of the third quarter and we ended up getting it to five. Then, they made a little run again and got it back to nine. I?don’t know if we ever got it closer than eight or nine again until the end, but we could never seem to get it under five. I thought that if we could do that they might start to get a little tight and we would give ourselves a chance to make a little run at it there at the end.”
Just as HHS appeared to be creeping back into the ball game, a timing malfunction halted the game — and possibly momentum on the side of the Red?Raiders (13-8) —?for nearly five minutes. After the shot clocks on both ends of the court, as well as the main scoreboard, were fixed, Leadership went on on a 9-5 run to close out the quarter and extended its lead back to nine points, 49-40, as Scholes alluded to earlier.
“I don’t know. Maybe,”?Scholes said, referring to the possibility that the break in the action affected the momentum swing. “At the time, I thought it might give us a little rest. I knew I?was going to go with those starters as long as I?could. I?was just hoping that we could keep it going. Maybe it affected us. If it doesn’t happen, who knows ... but we can’t control those things. We’re only trying to take care of the things that we can control.”
Hagins finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Gary Whiteside was next with 18, while William Torres tacked on 12. For Hornell, Isaac Bradley recorded a team-high 14 points, including 10 in the second half. Jack Galatio pitched in with 12 points and Brooks added nine. Anthony Buisch also pulled down a team-best 10 rebounds.
HHS spotted its opponent a 6-0 lead, giving up back-to-back 3-pointers in the opening 40 seconds of the contest. By the end of the first quarter, the Raiders found themselves in a 10-point hole and by the end of the second eight-minute session, the Lions’ lead head grown to 15, 39-24.
“We were in a ‘saggy’ man the entire game and we were trying to make them become jump-shooters,”?Scholes said. “And they ended up knocking down quite a few of them that hurt us. We were trying to keep them away from the rim as much as possible, trying to pack it in the paint. We wanted to keep them on the perimeter and contest the jump-shots the best we could. I thought we did an okay job of that, but they hurt us on the offensive glass, especially in the first half.”
Leadership finished plus-5 in the rebounding column, 29-24, including an 11-8 differential on the offensive end, and also won the turnover battle with four fewer, 16-12.
“The fast-break points off of our turnovers certainly hurt us as well,”?Scholes said.
“Exactly. The pace of the game didn’t favor their style of play,”?he said. “We always play at a quick tempo. I think that has come with our experience of going against the competition in the City of Rochester. We felt that by pressuring them and making them play at our pace they would have some challenges throughout the ball game.”
Simmons felt the name stitched across the front of his players’ jersey was worth a substantial head start before the opening tip. Call it the “intimidation” factor.
“All week, as we prepared for this game, my guys were just getting after it,”?Simmons said. “The second unit couldn’t even get the ball up the floor. So I knew that if we came with that same intensity we could beat Hornell.”
Scholes will attempt to return to “The Big House”?next season without the aid of four seniors — Brooks, Flint, Matt Mauro and Mike Mauro. Three of the five starters are returning and several players, who earned quality minutes this season, are expected to step into starting jobs when winter rolls around next year.
“Just some great kids,” Scholes said. “The future is still bright. We’ve got three starters back and another (Jack Galatio), who played great tonight and probably should have played more. He shot the ball well and he’ll be back as a junior next year. And we bring back Tyler Oyer as a fifth returner. We’ve also got some good jayvee kids coming up through that can play roles and help us out. Then, you look at the younger group, the 8th- and 9th-grade kids — we have 21 kids at that level right now who should all be going out for JV?basketball next year. We’re excited about it and we feel that the program is headed in the right direction. And a lot of that is a testament to these last few years.”
No. 5 Hornell 13 11 16 17 — 57 No. 2 Leadership 23 16 10 16 —?65
HORNELL:?Anthony Buisch 2-6 2-4 1-2 7, Elliott Flint 3-8 0-5 0-0 6, Sam Dagon 1-3 1-3 4-4 7, Richard Brooks 4-9 1-4 0-0 9, Isaac Bradley 5-12 0-1 4-4 14, Jack Galatio 5-7 2-4 0-0 12, Matt Mauro 0-1 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Oyer 1-1 0-0 0-0 2. LEADERSHIP: Victory Caldwell 3-10 2-6 1-2 9, Shabazz Mosley 8-13 2-5 0-0 18, Gary Whiteside 3-7 0-0 1-2 7, Devante Hagins 7-10 1-3 4-6 19, William Torres 5-12 1-4 1-2 12, Derek Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0-2 0.