By Jordan J. Michael
VOORHEESVILLE — The previous game between Berne-Knox-Westerlo Bulldogs and Voorheesville Blackbirds went to overtime. Last Saturday’s rematch was decided in double overtime. And, this time, the winner was BKW.
Basketball is taken to thrilling levels whenever the Bulldogs meet the Blackbirds. This can happen with a cross-county rivalry.
Emotions ran high during the most recent match-up between the small, neighboring schools at last Saturday’s Blackbird Invitational tournament in Voorheesville. With both teams in foul trouble in double overtime, BKW was able to survive, 89 to 85. The Bulldogs took advantage of costly turnovers by the Birds and made key foul shots down the stretch.
With BKW starters Tristan Wilson, Tanner Laurie, and Maclin Norray fouled out of the game, freshman Justin Houck came to the rescue.
The Bulldogs had an 80-to-76 lead, and Houck was able to steal the ball and then get fouled on two shot attempts. He made all four of his free throws to put the game out of reach for the Blackbirds.
BKW Head Coach Andy Wright, who turned 36 on Saturday, said that getting into foul trouble showed what his team is made of. “You have to figure out the guts of the team,” he said. “What we found out is that we have more of a team than one would immediately think.”
Voorheesville and BKW combined for 66 free-throw attempts on Saturday. The Birds made 78 percent of its foul shots and the Bulldogs made 72 percent. BKW senior Garrett Pitcher, who scored a game-high 31 points, made nine of his 11 free throws.
“It was definitely difficult for us because it was something we haven’t gone through as a team yet,” Voorheesville Head Coach David Burch said of the foul issues. “It’s a testament to how hard and well BKW was playing. They forced us into situations where we had to foul.”
Pitcher, who is ranked fifth in Section 2 with 23.3 points per game, played one of his best games of the season on Saturday. Relentlessly, Pitcher drove the lane, but he also dribbled, found teammates, and made outside shots. His lay-up sent the game into double overtime.
“We showed heart,” Pitcher said after the win. Late in the third quarter, while shooting free throws, Wright called out to Pitcher, letting him know that he wouldn’t mind if he made foul shots all night.
“Oh, this win is huge,” added Pitcher. “We wanted it. And, with this, if we can win out, it could place us in a good spot for sectionals.”
Fellow senior Wilson scored 25 points, including five three-pointers. His three-pointer in double overtime put BKW ahead, 78 to 75, and Voorheesville would never see the lead again.
Burch told The Enterprise that Pitcher and Wilson were going to be giving him nightmares.
“Pitcher is a solid, fundamentally sound basketball player,” said Burch, a first-year coach for the Birds. “If you make a mistake on him, he makes you pay for it, and, tonight, we made some mistakes,” Burch said after the game.
In the first round of last season’s Class C playoffs, Voorheesville beat BKW in overtime, 69 to 65. Wilson had spotted up for a three-pointer to try to send that game to double overtime, but Noah Crawford blocked the attempt.
“We all wanted it to happen, so bad,” Wilson said of beating Voorheesville on Saturday. “All the fans were going crazy, so we had to get the win. If they made a basket, we’d just score a basket, too.”
Last Saturday’s game had multiple ties and lead changes. It was a back and forth affair. Voorheesville and BKW both had a team shooting percentage of 43 percent.
“We are going to fight as hard as we possibly can to prove that we can compete, and, potentially, win against a top program,” said Wright. “There you go –– double overtime.”
A three-pointer by Wilson in the second quarter gave the Bulldogs a seven-point lead. After that, Dylan Hensel made a three-pointer and Logan Hotaling made a shot while being fouled to give the Blackbirds the lead. Voorheesville had a three-point lead at halftime after a 10-to-0 scoring run.
Hensel finished with 24 points, including four three-pointers. Hotaling had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
“This game had a lot of big plays and a lot of big shots from both sides,” Voorheesville’s Burch said. “Two teams really wanted to win this game, and I hate to be on the end of it that I’m on. It stinks.”
In the third quarter, consecutive three-pointers by Wilson and Pitcher returned the lead to BKW. However, early in the fourth quarter, two three-pointers by Hensel, and a steal and a lay-up by Crawford gave Voorheesville the advantage, again.
Hotaling had a chance to win the game for the Birds at the end of regulation play, but he missed a close shot. After the buzzer sounded, Hotaling lay on his stomach and pounded the court with his fists.
“We had our chances,” Burch said. “Maybe BKW had a little bit of a bad taste in their mouth from last time.”
The game was choppy. Players were getting frustrated. At one point, Houck fell on top of Hotaling, and Hotaling could barely contain his emotions after BKW was awarded the ball.
“Yeah, it’s a good rivalry,” said Burch. “I know my guys really wanted to win, but so did the other team.”
Hotaling had similar thoughts. “They (BKW) always bring a lot of fans down,” he said. “It’s more than just another game; it’s not your regular game.”
The intense battle continued at the start of the first overtime. Zach Precious made a lay-up off the glass for Voorheesville, and then Laurie followed suit for BKW with another lay-up off the backboard. Crawford made a lay-up, and then Wilson made a lay-up. A three-pointer by Precious put the Birds on top by four points, but the Bulldogs came back.
“I think we showed them that we’re a different team now,” Pitcher said. “We can finish.”
“We kept fighting,” added Wilson. “We didn’t back down.”
On Jan. 11, BKW (4-2, 8-5) had played poorly in a 12-point road loss to Schoharie, and then dropped its next game at home to Mekeel Christian Academy. Saturday’s game against Voorheesville (5-3, 6-6) had huge Class C sectional ramifications.
“We couldn’t have lost today because a loss would have jeopardized our sectional chances,” said Coach Wright. “We want a playoff game at home. I think we owe that to Bulldog Nation.”
Tickets to the movies or a dinner out would have been a welcome birthday gift for Wright, but he said nothing is better than a win over Voorheesville on the road. Basketball is his passion, and he loves watching his players win as a team.
“It’s the best birthday present, ever,” he said. “There’s nothing better.”