GLENS FALLS -- Occupational Training Center Middle College usually wins games with an excellent combination of talent and teamwork, and their victories usually include healthy doses of killer crossovers, superb ball movement, polished post play and flashy finishes.
On Friday evening, they won with guts. Middle College coach Randall Rich was even more specific.
"Stomach," Rich said. "Usually it's talent, it's flash . . . and today was stomach. Today was heart. I was very proud of them. It's a little bit different than how we usually win."
Despite a slow start, foul trouble, horrible three-point shooting and an off night for one of its top scorers, Middle College kept breaking away from Moravia in a 57-40 victory in the Class C state semifinals before an estimated 1,500 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Junior Davon Alexander personified the intestinal effort with 22 points and 15 rebounds -- despite limping around the Glens Falls Civic Center court for much of the second half after rolling an ankle, while senior Justin Stokes had 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
"It took a lot of heart," Alexander said. "Our team played together, we all played together and we played as one. I just had to fight through the pain. I had to do it for my team. They were counting on me."
Middle College (22-1), which won the Buffalo Public Schools' Yale Cup in just its second year as a varsity program, will try to add a state title at 7:15 tonight at the Civic Center. The Kats play Section I (Albany area) representative Maple Hill (24-1) of nearby Rensselaer County.
"Never in a million years did I ever think that we would be here," Alexander said. "But we worked real hard and hopefully we can come through and bring it back to Buffalo."
Middle College, which won its Section VI final by 36 points and won last week's regional by 46, had just a 10-6 lead after the first quarter. While those last two games were decided by halftime, the Kats had a 28-20 lead at the break Friday. Instead of fast-breaking to big leads, this one was built slowly but surely. After three quarters, Middle College was up, 40-27. The lead would drop to 10 once but then keep getting larger.
The Kats' pace was slowed because senior Sean Mulhern (five points, four rebounds) was in foul trouble most of the game, the Moravia defense focused on senior Darale Young (10 points, nine rebounds) and the Kats shot 2 for 20 from three-point range.
"Mulhern is like the cog in the middle of our wheel," Rich said. "When he gets in foul trouble, and his head starts to spin a little bit, it's usually one of our rough games. They ran a junk defense on Darale and he struggled at the beginning."
Alexander rolled an ankle early in the third quarter, limped to the bench, removed his sneaker, had the ankle taped, and returned later in the quarter. Alexander came back with 3:33 left in the third to replace Mulhern, who had just picked up his fourth foul. With the Kats and Young struggling from outside, Stokes provided serious scoring punch with his unstoppable slicing drives.
"Davon played hurt in that second half and he played tough," Rich said. "The last two games he's played like an absolute beast. And Justin Stokes carried us at times. When we're struggling, he does that. He'll put the team on his back for 5-10 minutes, and then he'll let the other guys do it."
Maple Hill, which lost in last year's Class C state final, earned another trip with a 50-46 victory over Section I (Westchester County) champion Blind Brook. The Wildcats had a balanced effort with 6-foot senior Jake Jasicwicz (13 points, nine rebounds), 6-5 senior Sean Danaher (11 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks), 5-9 senior Dominic Prinzo (eight points, five assists, three steals) and 6-foot senior Christopher Despart (eight points).