Middle Early College and Tapestry brought the playground to the Buffalo State Sports Arena on Tuesday night and what a highlight-filled, fast-paced, in-your-face show these teams put on for the estimated 1,000 fans.
Great passes. Points scored so fast one may have missed a basket or two just because of blinking, but the show-stopping moment and turning point of the Section VI Class C state qualifier was hard to miss.
It came during the second quarter courtesy of Fred Foster with an assist to Billy Rivera. Just when it seemed the 6-foot-5 Foster was trapped near midcourt along the right sideline, he whipped a pass to the right corner to Rivera to start a give-and-go ending with a thunderous, one-handed Foster jam that broke a 22-22 tie and seemingly broke Tapestry’s spirit.
The dunk sparked a quarter-ending 16-4 run as the Class C-2 champion Kats advanced to the Far West Regionals with a 76-70 win over the Class C-1 champions.
Middle College will play the winner of Wednesday’s Section V Class C final between Lyons and Caledonia-Mumford at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rush-Henrietta in suburban Rochester. It will be the Kats’ second straight regional appearance and fourth in six years.
Foster scored eight of his 20 points during that second quarter. That included six during the run gave Middle College some breathing room against the aggressive Thunder Hawks, who led 8-1 before fans had settled into their seats.
The dunk started it all for the Kats, who led 38-26 at halftime and never let Tapestry get closer than six points the rest of the way.
“I just put in my mind any time I get to the hole I’m going to try to dunk it,” said Foster, who averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game during the season. “I just rose and rose and rose.”
And boom, momentum changer.
“When you get dunked on that hard it kind of stuns you as a team,” Kats coach Randall Rich said. “Well it stunned them and fired us up at the same time.”
In case the Buffalo State faithful didn’t know who Foster was, he introduced himself early in the first quarter with a two-handed dunk off the break that normally would provide a big jolt. That slam was a yawner compared with that epic second-quarter throw down. Even an impressive fourth-quarter dunk in which Foster got the ball under the basket, dribbled along the baseline away from a trap to the left corner before attacking the basket and throwing down a two-handed slam with three defenders left in his wake paled in comparison with the dunk Foster referred to as the “poster one.”
“He’s an incredible athlete,” Rich said. “He’s an absolute gifted player. He can shoot. He can drive. He can do it all. He’s an amazing player.”
Middle College is used to playing at a quick pace, but Tapestry brought it at an even quicker one after the opening tip. The Thunder Hawks led 5-0 after just 21 seconds as a JaQuoine Fogan three-pointer and steal and layup by Jordan Maxey provided the points. DeJaun Owen’s three made it 8-1 after 50 seconds.
MEC regained its bearings though as a Foster dunk got things going for the Kats, who led 17-16 after one quarter. The last basket of the quarter for MEC was an Isaiah Jenkins baseline layup off a nice feed from Foster.
Joseph Staton scored nine of his game-high 22 points during the third quarter. Foster even flaunted his range as he drilled a three-pointer for the Kats’ final points of the quarter as they led 63-48. Amir Jemes finished with 12 points, 11 assists and five steals for Middle College, while Brian Johnson had 11 rebounds and 10 points.
Tapestry’s Fogan finished with 22 to share game honors with Staton.
While Foster provided the highlight, the entire team produced an unforgettable moment for one of its own when Staton had Dion Watkins, who didn’t play, accept the Class C state qualifier’s plaque on behalf of the team. Watkins had a tear in his eye as his teammates have dedicated the season to him and in honor of his late mother, Diane Demps, who passed away tragically last Thursday.