Chris Secky and some Maple Grove teammates were in their hotel room Thursday night watching the NCAA Tournament when sophomore point guard Alex Grace said: "You know what a great play is? When people pretend to run back [on defense], and then they jump back and steal the pass and make a layup."
The next afternoon, in the Class D state semifinals, Chris Secky made that great play.
Secky's steal of an outlet pass and his thrilling reverse layup with less than two minutes to go capped an outstanding performance by the Red Dragons and propelled them into the state championship game with a 56-50 victory over previously undefeated and top-ranked New York Mills.
Maple Grove (15-8) returns to the Glens Falls Civic Center to play John A. Coleman Catholic of Ulster County in today's 5:30 p.m. title game.
"I just pretended to run back on defense, jumped in and stole the pass," said Secky, a 6-foot-2 senior who had 22 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. "Last night everyone in my room was talking about it -- that it's the greatest play at the end of a game. Big men just outlet sometimes without thinking and you can get a big steal."
Secky went to the free throw line with the score tied, 48-48, with 1:52 left. He hit the first foul shot but missed the second. New York Mills' 6-8 sophomore Matt Welch got the rebound, but as he let go of an outlet pass to the left side, Secky sneaked in front of its intended recipient, slickly drove the baseline to get past Welch and the right-hander blindly banked in the layup.
"I think I spun, threw it off . . . whatever I did, I don't even remember [how he hit the shot]," Secky said. "I just remember I scored."
The basket put Maple Grove up by three points and it would lead the rest of the way. After Secky's big shot, he hit two free throws and senior Kevin McElrath (seven points, seven rebounds) hit three while New York Mills only scored one more basket.
"I've been playing with him since I was in sixth grade," McElrath said. "He's always the one to make a big play. I knew he'd make a big play. He was talking about last night, how it's a great play. He's actually been doing that little steal thing since he was young. It's amazing."
Among a crowd of about 2,000, those wearing the blue and orange of the Oneida County school and Section III (Syracuse area) champion probably outnumbered the red-and-black throng from Maple Grove, but the Red Dragons' fans had plenty to make noise about early as they went up, 21-9, after the first quarter.
New York Mills (23-1) rebounded with a 14-3 second to leave the Red Dragons with a 24-23 halftime lead. The teams went back and forth the rest of the way, with the Maurauders taking their first lead since the opening minute at 35-34 late in the third. Maple Grove led, 38-35, heading to the fourth.
Secky defended Welch (13 points) for much of the game while the 6-4 McElrath and 6-1 Matt Fox (standout football linebacker) were on 6-5 junior Fred Russ (17 points) with some great help from collapsing guards.
Grace added 12 points for Maple Grove, which won the Class C state title in 2008 but lost a double-overtime classic to Long Island's Greenport in last year's semifinals.
Coleman Catholic (20-2), ranked second in the state behind New York Mills (Maple Grove is third), beat Germantown of Section II (Albany area), 70-50, in the first of six semifinals played at the Civic Center on Friday. Six-foot senior Jake Palmer had 20 points while 6-4 junior Chris Chatelain had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Statesmen.
Clymer has tough draw
The Clymer girls basketball team takes on defending state champion John A. Coleman Catholic of Section IX today at 9 a.m. in the state semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
It's expected to be a tough draw for the Pirates (18-4), who will be making their first trip to the state semifinals in the program's history.
Five seniors, Mallory Deuink, Kailyn Bentley, Sydney Bennink, Jenn Rhodes and Andrea Lictus, will start for the Pirates as they look to advance to Sunday's final.