The last time the Middle Early College boys basketball reached the state Final Four there were two images that stood out from that experience.
The championship team photo, of course, as the Kats mauled their opponents by an average of more than 36 points.
The second came courtesy of tournament MVP Gary Foster. The senior threw down a manly one-handed jam that posterized helpless Haldane defenders, capturing the spirit of that weekend by the Kats.
This year’s Middle Early College team -- making the program’s fifth Final Four appearance, may not consider itself an underdog but it knows it’ll be in for quite the challenge.
It took a furious comeback from a 19-point deficit with under 12 minutes to play for the Kats to punch their ticket to Binghamton. Their reward for doing that is facing defending state champion Lake George, which also so happens to boast the state’s current longest winning streak in the sport at 54.
The teams meet at 9 a.m. Saturday in a Class C semifinal. The winner plays for the championship at noon Sunday against either III-Cooperstown or XI-Greenport.
“It’s going to be a great game, great competition,” said senior Ja’Kari Nettles, who had 23 points and 23 rebounds in the Kats’ Far West Regional win last week. “We just have to come out and execute to our defensive principles.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure. It’s just a great feeling to know that everybody’s eyes are on you and you get to show your talents and what you’re made of,” Nettles said.
What helped fuel the comeback was the fact different players contributed. Nettles came up huge obviously. So too did Tramelle Stevens (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Devonte Prince (19 points). Jamond and Keyunte Jones made big plays too. Keith Brown scored the go-ahead basket for Middle College (21-3).
In the team's last three playoff games, Nettles, Keyunte Jones and Nettles have been its leading scorers. Jamone Jones averages a team-high 17.7 ppg.
Contributions from many proved to be huge but not knowing who’s going to ignite the spark can lead to some anxious moments for the Kats.
“We’ve definitely been looking for different guys to give us a spark,” MEC coach James Kane said. “It’s not always the same guy, which is a good thing but sometimes can be a bad thing like last week where it took awhile to get going.”
MEC must find a way to slow down Lake George center Chris Becker, who comes into the game averaging nearly 22 points and 11 boards per game.
Even more important for the Kats is for them to show up ready to get after it defensively. Another slow start could lead to doom.
“We need to come out to a hot start and not come out lazy or slow because if we get in the same position as we did last week it’ll be tough for us to overcome that,” Jamone Jones said.
It’s not like a Buffalo Public School hasn’t gone into a state semifinal against a team with a lengthy win streak. Remember, South Park back in 2015 ended Maine-Endwell’s record 62-game winning streak in football en route to the state title.
Middle will try to take away the things Lake George likes to do and perhaps make them play a faster game than they are accustomed to playing.
“If we can dictate the pace of the game, I think we’ll put ourselves in a good position to win,” Kane said.