ALBANY – Sunday figured to be an emotional time for Olean boys basketball coach Jeff Anastasia.
It was, because regardless of the Huskies’ outcome in the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class B final, it was his last time coaching this group of players – specifically the seniors.
The Hall of Fame coach shed tears – lots of them. Unfortunately for the Huskies, none of them were tears of joy.
Olean’s quest for the perfect ending to its championship season came up one win short, as the Huskies dropped a 49-45 decision to Collegiate School of New York City in the overall Federation Class B final.
The loss foiled Olean’s bid to finish its best season ever unbeaten with a 29-0 mark. Instead, the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association champions, a team featuring seniors Derek Schmidt, Jake Cavana and Elijah Ramadhan, finish 28-1.
While that’s disappointing, it’s not as upsetting as knowing that there will be no more fun moments in practices with teammates. No more road trips together. No more games.
It’s just a long bus ride back to Olean and then a locker to clean out.
“I just said to the seniors, this is the hardest time for me because we’re saying goodbye,” a misty-eyed Anastasia said Sunday night. “Please stay in touch. Thank you for all of the special memories you gave me and to yourselves.”
Anastasia’s favorite moment: “Winning the state championship and having them at my Hall of Fame induction” the next day, he said.
While Collegiate (26-5) had the height advantage across the board in this one with all of its starters 6-foot-1 or taller, Olean played its usual scrappy, well-disciplined game – doing its best to negate the Dutchmen’s advantage and keeping things close on the scoreboard.
The Huskies grabbed more rebounds (30-28) and blocked more shots (3-2) while getting outscored in the paint by only 22-20. Olean also did not yield a three-point basket.
The ultimate difference? Collegiate got to the free-throw line more times than the Huskies (25 to 12), outscoring them, 17-8. Olean never trailed by more than eight as its defense prevented the Dutchmen from pulling away, holding them to 16-for-46 shooting, including 0 for 8 from downtown. Schmidt finished with 12 points for the Huskies.
The Huskies, who held their final lead of the game at 13-12 late in the first quarter, pulled within 40-39 on a Mike Schmidt three-pointer with 4:20 left. Jason Cam’s layup and two free throws by tournament MVP Everett Witt put Olean in a two-possession hole again. Witt scored a game-high 20 points.
All-tournament pick Ramadhan’s layup with under a minute left made it 46-43 Collegiate. That’s as close as the Huskies got. They played the final seven minutes without leading scorer Ben Eckstrom, who fouled out. He finished with nine points.
“We never really hit the big shot, got that momentum going to pull away,” said Cavana, who finished with seven points. “We definitely wanted to win this game but losing your last game possible, you can’t complain. Win or lose, we’re proud of the season we had.”
What are the Huskies going to remember most about this championship season?
“Just the sportsmanship and the team we had around us,” Schmidt said. “We’re not going to remember losing to Collegiate in the Federation championship. We’re going to remember all the stories on the bus ride, going out to lunch and stuff like that.”