JAMESTOWN – Branson Morrison never lost faith in his outside jumper, and it’s a good thing for Randolph he kept shooting with confidence.
If not for believing in himself and his ability to hit the three, the Cardinals wouldn’t be Section VI champions this morning.
Morrison’s only 3-pointer of the game gave Randolph the lead for good with 1 minute, 35 seconds left. Kaleb Steward then secured the win with a steal in the final seconds as the top-seeded Cardinals rallied to beat No. 2 Holland, 49-46, in a Class C-2 championship-game thriller before a standing-room-only crowd at Jamestown Community College.
Morrison’s big shot turned what had been a two-point deficit into a one-point lead. A couple minutes earlier, he had given the Cards a 44-41 lead by hitting a pair of free throws for his first points of the contest.
With the Dutchmen playing blanket defense on senior teammate and top scorer Tyler Hind, Randolph needed somebody to hit the big shot.
“He’s done that all season,” said Hind, who finished with 24 points, of Morrison. “I can think of four times this season where maybe he’s struggling but he just has that confidence about him and bang, he just knocks it down.”
The championship is Randolph’s third in four years. The Cardinals return to action at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at Buffalo State Sports Arena where they face Class C-1 champion Middle Early College for the right to advance to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tournament.
No. 1 Middle Early College (19-4) used a furious rally to overwhelm second-seeded Tapestry, 73-50. Jamond Jones scored 20 of his game-high 28 points during the final 16 minutes as the Kats overcame a three-point deficit with a game-closing 39-13 run over the final 12 minutes to secure their seventh sectional title in nine years.
“The second half we just kept our composure,” Jones said. “It feels so amazing right now moving on. I’m really at a loss for words right now.”
The overall Class C final will be a rematch of last year’s clash won by eventual state runner-up Middle College.
Randolph (22-1) came into Friday with its only loss coming before Christmas against Rochester East, a state-ranked team in the Class A poll.
The Cardinals had the target on their back and got pushed to the limit by a Holland team looking to win its first sectional title in the sport. The Dutchmen were a few missed free throws – and a handful of foul calls that could’ve gone either way – away from perhaps hoisting the championship plaque.
Holland led at halftime 26-25 on Joe Ferrara’s buzzer-beating-transition layup. Randolph went ahead by five early in the third quarter, but the Dutchmen had plenty in reserve. They stormed back with Jon Nellis scoring his team’s final five points as the Dutchmen took a 36-34 lead into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter featured four lead changes. The Dutchmen took their last lead, 46-44, with 2:37 left on Nellis’ two free throws.
Then boom, Morrison delivered, at last.
“I was talking about it at halftime,” Morrison said. “I felt good at halftime (during warmups) and one finally hit (in the game).”
“It was a fight and I mean the whole time it was just a fight,” Hind said. “They were playing us so hard, but we knew we were going to be in it and our defense kept us in it and we pulled it out.”
Nellis had 20 points to lead Holland (16-7).
“We’re really proud of the kids,” Dutchmen coach Brandon Camacho said. “It was a great year for Holland, we got nothing to hold our heads down.”
The C-1 final seemed like it too would go down to the wire much like the C-2 clash. Tapestry led 19-15 after the first quarter and 28-27 at halftime.
The Thunderhawks led 37-34 with 4:18 to go in the third quarter. Middle College had other plans, as Jones simply went off.
The senior guard scored 16 points in the third quarter, playing a starring role in the Kats’ game-closing blitz. Middle Early College’s relentless work on defense and on the boards fueled a transition game that KO’d Tapestry for good.
Jones, who also had five assists, tied it at 37 with a trey. Keith Brown followed with a transition layup off a turnover to give the Kats the lead for good. A traditional three-point play by Jones forced Tapestry to call timeout.
It didn’t matter as MEC forced another turnover that led to a three by Jones. The Kats led 52-37 heading into the final quarter. Jones provided an early explanation point on this one with a fourth-quarter jam that got the Middle College faithful screaming.
Keyunte Jonese had 10 rebounds, 10 assists and five points for the Kats, Davonte Prince had 11 points and Brown 10.
“Our plan the whole game was to try to wear them down,” winning coach James Kane said. “We did a good job getting rebounds and loose balls and that’s what facilitated everything.”
Tariq Eubanks had 13 points to lead the Thunderhawks (16-7).