HENRIETTA – The Middle Early College Kats were denied their chance to return to Glens Falls for the fourth straight year after a 67-63 defeat to Section V’s Lyons in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C quarterfinals on Saturday at Rush-Henrietta High School in front of a crowd of about 1,000.
“It’s a tough loss,” Middle College coach Randall Rich said. “We weren’t the better team out there today. They were the better team.”
Lyons’ Damon Hunter “is a good player, made big shots,” Rich said.
Hunter, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, was the only scorer in double figures for the Lions. He scored a game-high 31 points, including three three-pointers, and hit two of his 10 free throws in the closing seconds of the game to help secure the win.
Those free throws came after Middle College put the ball in the hands of standout Fred Foster after a timeout with 16.8 seconds left and down 65-63. Foster drove hard to the lane and missed a contested but makeable shot. Just prior to that, Foster made a free throw with 30.1 seconds on the clock to make it 64-63.
The Kats fell behind by 12 points, 62-50, midway through the fourth quarter before they went on a 14-1 run to make the game close again.
“It’s just one of those things, young kids, you can’t always motivate them to play hard all the time,” Rich said. “If they had played as hard as they could the last four minutes, we win by 20.”
One reason for the surge was because the Kats became insistent on getting the ball into the paint instead of shooting from the outside.
“Kids are kids, they want to shoot jump shots,” said Rich, whose team shot 34.5 percent from the field and 34.8 from three-point land. “If they’re wide open, they want to take them. We preached all week, pound it inside, pound it inside, pound it inside. But when you have wide open jumpers it’s hard to turn them down. We make two more threes, it’s a totally different game.”
Middle College (18-6) and Lyons (22-3) traded leads and baskets early in the first half, but the Kats had their last lead of the game with about three minutes to go before intermission. Lyons held a 32-28 lead after the first 16 minutes.
Foster led Middle College with 22 points and 15 boards. Joseph Staton scored 15 (four threes) and Amir Jemes had 10 (two threes). Brian Johnson added six points and 10 rebounds.
Foster, Staton, Jemes and Johnson are all juniors and will be part of the core for the Kats next season, which Rich said will be his last coaching.
“I told people from the beginning of this year that next year is my last year,” Rich said. “Let’s go out with a bang next year. We got everybody back, and let’s make games irrelevant. Blow teams out by so much it doesn’t even matter. … Next year we don’t let anything go to chance, I guess is how you would say it. Beat teams by 30, 40, 50, no mercy, nothing to chance.”