The dream season and the dream weekend are on the verge of becoming one for the Olean boys basketball season.
On the same weekend the unbeaten Huskies (25-0) will participate in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association final four, their longtime coach, Jeff Anastasia, will end it by being inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame as a potential championship coach once again.
Sounds like fun, although Anastasia, who has more than 500 wins in his long career, could do without falling behind by double-digits before storming back to win by more than 20, which is what Olean did before nearly 1,800 fans at the Buffalo State Sports Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Elijah Ramadhan was almost perfect from the field in scoring a game-high 20 points, while Ben Eckstrom added nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks as the Huskies advanced to the state semifinals for the third time in five seasons by routing Section V champion Wellsville, 54-30.
Olean returns to action at 6:15 p.m. Friday night against Section II champion Hudson at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The winner advances to the final at 9 p.m. Saturday night.
“It’s really special,” Eckstrom said of reaching state semifinals. “Coach Anastasia is getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s his dream to watch us win Friday and Saturday and get inducted Sunday.”
Ramadhan, who finished 8 for 9 from the floor and 4 of 6 from the foul line, scored 10 points in each half as his play inside, along with the whole team reacting to the early wake-up call it received from the Lions (20-5), produced the desired result. Olean s last won the state title in 2008 but has had a couple close calls in the state tournament since.
Olean seemed like it could be headed to regional heartbreak, much like in 2010 and 2013 when Batavia broke the collective hearts of Huskies’ fans. Except something clicked once the score hit 12-2 with 3 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Huskies became more aggressive on defense and the clean looks Wellsville had early disappeared. That same Lions team that scored 12 points in just under five minutes mustered only three more the rest of the half and 18 points over the final 28:54.
Olean forced 17 turnovers, making 13 steals with Ramadhan (four) and Eckstrom (three) leading the theft brigade. After yielding two treys in the opening four minutes, the Huskies gave up just three the rest of the way as Wellsville shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and 25.6 overall.
“I was a little surprised with the slow start but I was really proud of the effort and how they dug in on defense,” Anastasia said.
Last season’s team, which includes many players from this season, had a reputation for falling behind only to rally and win in cardiac-kids fashion during the Section VI tournament, including the A-2 final.
Anastasia prefers being in control of the situation from start to finish.
Olean gathered its bearings late in the first quarter as Derek Schmidt and Jake Cavana each hit three-pointers that sliced into the deficit. The Huskies wasted little time surging ahead as Monty Shoemaker’s trey made it 13-12 Olean with 6:19 left in the second quarter. Eckstrom followed with a steal and a layup. Although Wellsville tied it 15-15, Shoemaker’s final points of the day, a three-pointer, sparked an 11-0 run to end the half.
There was no stopping Olean after that, setting up a potential weekend to remember for the red and gold.
“Growing up you hear all the stories from the 2008 state championship team and then going with my brother (Sam) and watching him play (in Glens Falls), it’s special” to reach this point, Eckstrom said. “Hopefully we can make a run of our own.”