GLENS FALLS – The sound of a nearly silent arena at the conclusion of Friday night’s state boys basketball semifinal proved to be very sweet to Olean’s ears.
In what amounted to a road game against a team averaging close to 79 points per contest, the scrappy Huskies not only found a way to advance to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class B final, but they crushed a Section II Hudson team most of the estimated 3,000 fans at Glens Falls Civic Center came to see.
Ben Eckstrom and Elijah Ramadhan recorded double-doubles and sophomore Monty Shoemaker drained five three-pointers as Olean defeated the Section II champion Blue Hawks, 58-38.
Eckstrom scored a game-high 18 points to go with 10 rebounds, Ramadhan grabbed 15 boards to go with 10 points and Shoemaker finished with 15 points as the unbeaten Huskies (26-0) will play Section IX champion Marlboro for the state crown. Marlboro defeated III-Bishop Grimes, 74-60, in the second Class B semifinal. The title game is slated to tip off at 9 p.m. Saturday night.
Olean last won a state title in 2008 although it made it to the final in 2014, when it lost to eventual Federation champion Westhill of Section III.
“We’ve been taking one step at a time,” Huskies coach Jeff Anastasia said. “All year long I’ve said let’s take another step and we were able to take another step so that allows us to play for a state championship.”
“We didn’t just come to do that,” said Ramadhan of the team’s championship dream.
After an entertaining first quarter and mostly a see-saw second quarter, Olean trailed, 21-19, after Willie Walker’s layup with 3:55 left in the second. That’s the last time the Huskies were behind as they closed the quarter on a 13-0 run to take 32-21 halftime lead. Jake Cavana’s layup tied it and Shoemaker’s steal led to a trey by Eckstrom. After another layup by Eckstrom, Shoemaker drained back-to-back threes to stake Olean to its lead at the break.
Just how good is Olean’s defense?
Anastasia said he hasn’t coached a crew that’s as willing to get after it on defense as this year’s team.
The players made him proud again as Hudson (26-1) mustered only 17 points against the Huskies’ relentless man-to-man in the second half as busloads of Blue Hawks faithful hoping to witness a comeback left the arena as a dejected lot.
“They really make you work for everything you get,” said Hudson coach Shawn Briscoe. “We haven’t seen a ton of man to man. It’s not that we can’t go against man to man but the man to man they play, you have to be very disciplined offensively. We just weren’t able to capitalize on some key opportunities because we had some open looks. But at the end of the day you have to tip your hat to Olean.”
Should Olean win Saturday, that means coach Anastasia’s dream comes true. He is being inducted into the state Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday morning. The 29-year veteran with 534 career wins would love to be inducted as a reigning state championship coach.
“It’d be a storybook ending if somehow we can somehow win the state championship on Saturday and I get inducted on Sunday,” Anastasia said.