JAMESTOWN – This whole winning Section VI boys basketball championships is old hat for Middle Early College. The Kats are close to having rings for each of their fingers. For Olmsted, however, winning is a whole new experience.
That still didn’t stop the Owls from acting like they’ve been there before. Much like Middle College, Olmsted soaked it all in during the postgame championship celebration Friday night at Jamestown Community College.
Behind a huge double-double performance by sophomore Master Radford, the second-seeded Owls held on to defeat No. 4 Chautauqua Lake, 54-51, in the Section VI Class C-1 final. The Thunderbirds had three chances within the final 40 seconds to tie the game but each time came up just a little short as a scrappy Olmsted crew found a way to hang on to win the biggest game in its history.
“It feels amazing,” said the 6-foot-4 Radford, who finished with game-highs of 22 points and 23 rebounds. “We’re going to Buffalo State.”
“We all had the same goal, not just winning but getting better each and every day,” winning coach Andrew Bush said. “This is another step.”
The Owls (19-4) face a Middle College (16-7) program at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday that’s somewhat used to playing big games at this time of the year. The top-seeded Kats earned another overall Class C final date at the Sports Arena by giving a very good Silver Creek team the slip, 68-60, in the Class C-2 final behind huge performances from seniors Joseph Staton and Billy Rivera.
Staton scored a game-high 29 points, while Rivera came up with clutch baskets during a 17-point effort as Middle College won its fifth straight sectional title, including third C-2 crown in a row, and sixth in seven seasons.
“It’s a credit to the athletes who work hard every single day,” said Kats coach Randall Rich. “I’m a bear. I’m a beast. I work them so hard. Sometimes they hate me.”
But they like winning even more, especially Staton, who has been a part of the last four championship teams.
“That’s just a blessing to have this team and the coaching staff,” said Staton, who scored 15 points over the final 16 minutes. “We come out hard every year and know we can win no matter what.”
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,400 watched both Class C title games and there were times when JCC got so loud it was hard to hear the person next to you.
The crowd seemed ready to blow the roof off the arena when Aaron Swan, who led Chautauqua Lake with 21 points, had two free-throw attempts to tie things at 52 with 37 seconds left. He made the first but the not the second one, which Brandon Roach secured for Olmsted – drawing a foul for a one-and-one chance. Roach, who normally averages nearly 26 points per game, drained both free throws to put the Thunderbirds in a position to need a three-pointer.
Carter Davidson had a look from the left corner with 10 seconds left but the shot bounced off the rim and to the corner where Kaelen Clouser grabbed it for Olmsted. After a missed one-and-one, all the Thunderbirds (15-8) could muster was a half-court shot that had the distance but was off the mark before the final horn.
Olmsted finds a way to win in a game where its star player, Roach, is held to nine points and in which the opposition had multiple chances to force overtime.
Must be destiny?
“Resilience,” summed up Bush, the former Canisius College player. “We kept fighting, rebounding and doing the little things to win.”
Middle College looked like it would run Silver Creek out of the gym early but the Kats have a bad habit of losing focus and letting teams get back in it.
The Knights did just that behind a vocal following that got louder late in the third quarter after Silver Creek had turned a seven-point halftime deficit into a 42-41 lead on Brandon Woeben’s layup. After Gary Foster scored to give the Kats the lead again, Trevon Thompson sank two free throws to put the Knights ahead 44-43.
That’s when Rivera came to the fore and drained a three from the left corner to give Middle College a 46-43 edge heading into the fourth quarter. That trey sparked a 9-0 blitz that enabled the Kats to stay ahead for good as Rivera had six points in that run with Staton adding a layup.
“It’s all about team,” Rivera said. “We have to play as a team to win. “Every win is big. The goal is to get a ring. We’re just taking it game by game.”