In the midst of a on-court party with his players, cheerleaders, students and parents Friday night, Sweet Home coach Paul Schintzius somehow sought out one person: Buffalo State facilities coordinator Brent Ford.
Schintzius needed a ladder and some scissors, because Sweet Home was cutting down the nets.
The Panthers earned the right to participate in the time-honored tournament tradition -- but the first in recent memory for a high school game at Buffalo State -- by surviving Wilson Magnet, 53-51, in a pressure-packed Far West Regional before an estimated 1,500.
"I told them if they bought into what I was trying to talk to them about that we would have an opportunity to cut 'em down," said Schintzius, who could only start celebrating when Wilson senior Brandon Williams' running, straightaway NBA-range three-pointer bounced in and out of the rim at the buzzer. "And it came true. It's unbelievable. It's a special ride."
The 100th win in the career of Schintzius, a Sweet Home grad who was part of the school's state title team in 1984, is sending the Panthers (20-5) to Glens Falls for their first state final four since 1986. Sweet Home will play in a Class A state semifinal at 10:45 a.m. next Saturday against the winner of the Long Island regional playoff between Section VIII (Nassau County) champion Jericho (20-2) and Section XI (Suffolk County) winner Huntington (20-4).
"Coach talked about it the first day of practice -- we're going to cut down the nets -- and here we are," said senior Quentin Hudson, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half. "We believe in each other so much. When it comes down to it, we look into each other's eyes and we know what's going to happen."
Like when Sweet Home lost a lead it had all game when Wilson went ahead, 41-40, to start the fourth quarter.
"We told each other, if we don't do this right now, we're not going to Glens Falls," said Joseph. "We're going to go home and cry like all the other teams. Everyone looked at each other, nodded their heads and said, 'OK, we'll do it.' "
Sweet Home had the lead for nearly three quarters of a frenetic, physical game. The Panthers were up, 17-9, after a first quarter in which it got a boost from senior guard Brett Vroman, who scored the game's first five points and had an assist. Daniel Joseph, the 6-foot-5 senior forward, was enormous in the first half, scoring all of his 14 points and grabbing 11 of his 13 rebounds as Sweet Home built a 35-23 lead at halftime.
Wilson Magnet (18-7) increased its pressure defense to get back in the game in an 18-5 third quarter which gave it a 41-40 lead. Sweet Home then cranked up its own full-court pressure, and that helped it reclaim the lead at 44-42 on a steal and layup by Hudson. Wilson scored a basket to tie the game, but the Panthers scored the next eight points, including three free throws by junior forward Glenroy Carr (eight points, 11 rebounds) and a steal and layup by junior guard Eric Schnirel, for a 52-44 lead with 4:29 left.
The pace slowed in the final minutes and Wilson climbed back into the game, drawing to within 52-49 with 1:40 to go, but it went 2 of 4 at the foul line while Hudson hit one of two for a 53-51 Sweet Home lead. Hudson missed two free throws with 5.8 seconds left to give Wilson one last shot.