ALBANY – Not even Jake Cavana knows if he was fouled or not with six-tenths of a second left in Saturday afternoon’s state Federation Class B boys basketball semifinal at Times Union Center.
All the senior guard knows is that the 50-50 call went Olean’s way. As a result, the Huskies’ dream season is still alive and well after the quest for perfection had seemingly slipped away after a nightmarish stretch of play by the reigning New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association champions.
Cavana’s two free throws before the final horn was the difference as Olean advanced to the overall state final with a heart-stopping 66-65 victory over New York City Public Schools champion Kipp Prep.
After Kipp (27-3) turned a four-point deficit into a one-point lead by scoring five points in a span of 4 seconds, Cavana received the inbounds, ran from the left corner up the middle and drove straight to the Bulldogs’ basket against two defenders. The aggressive Cavana came up short on the layup but scrapped for the rebound and got the call as he hit the deck with a Kipp defender trying to hold onto the ball.
“A lot of contact. It could’ve gone either way,” said Cavana, who finished with 11 points.
“I’ve been in that position on the other side as a referee,” Kipp coach Craighton Barry said. “I understand some of the things that occur and sometimes people anticipate and think they see things and your mind says that something but really it may not be that. I just got to look at the guy. I’m sure he did the best he could do.”
Olean (28-0) now looks to complete the unbeaten season with a win over the Alliance of Independent Schools champion Collegiate of New York City. The Dutchmen (25-5) advanced with a 63-45 victory over state Catholic champion Salesian.
Both the Huskies and Bulldogs had their share of dominant stretches in Saturday’s game. Kipp turned a potential one-sided loss into the mother-of-all comebacks – the type of game 2,000 fans would insist they witnessed after the fact even though the game drew at most an estimated 500.
Olean used its relentless defense and for three-plus quarters slowed down the tall, athletic Bulldogs, who came in averaging 80 points per game. The Huskies turned a five-point halftime lead into a 56-33 advantage on Monty Shoemaker’s three-pointer with 6:32 left.
Then the unthinkable happened. The Huskies let up slightly and Kipp started to land some damaging hay-makers, making shots and forcing turnovers with their pressure. Christian Sturdivant’s layup with 4:05 left capped a 14-0 run that prompted Olean to use its second timeout in a span of 30 seconds.
“We stepped off the gas a little bit,” said Huskies senior Ben Eckstrom, who shared team-high scoring honors of 21 points with Elijah Ramadhan. “We had this big lead and then they come out and were hitting all their shots.”
The Huskies seemingly secured the win on a nice Shoemaker feed to Ramadhan for a layup that made it 61-52 with 1:49 left. Jason Valera-Munoz followed with a trey for Kipp and when teammate Xavier Nunez also hit a three-pointer, it was a four-point game with 1:20 left. Valera-Munoz followed with 2 of 3 free throws after being fouled on a trey with under a minute left.
Still, Ramadhan followed with two free throws to make it 64-60 with 24 seconds left.
Up four, just make free throws and don’t turn the ball over and it’s on to the Fed final.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way.
Nunez hit a trey with 15.6 seconds left and in the time it takes to blink, Munoz stole the inbounds pass, missed a short layup but Sturdivant followed with a putback to give Kipp a 65-64 lead with 11 seconds left.
Olean coach Jeff Anastasia thought about calling timeout, but once he saw Cavana had the ball and path to the basket, opted to let things play out. It worked out in the Huskies’ favor.
“I was really proud that we were able to endure and come out with the win,” Anastasia said. “It doesn’t matter how many points you win by in March.”
“We got lucky, very lucky we pulled that one out at the end,” Cavana said.