By Jordan J. Michael
CLIFTON PARK –– Everyone inside Shenendehowa’s gymnasium last Friday –– fans, players, and coaches –– inhaled a deep breath as Garrett Pitcher’s last-second line-drive heave flew towards the basket from 60 feet away. The amazing shot was dead on, and would have sent BKW into overtime with Lake George, but the ball clanked off the back rim, bouncing onto the court under a collective “Awww!” from the stands.
The Class C quarterfinal was tightly contested, so Pitcher’s prayer was a fitting end. Falling to his right, Pitcher whipped the shot with his left hand.
Lake George Head Coach Dave Jones was on Pitcher’s side of the court, facing BKW’s basket. “It was just a fraction long,” he said after the 55-to-52 win. “And I mean, a fraction.”
Pitcher, a senior, was dejected as he jogged to the Bulldogs’ bench. He was Section 2’s fourth leading scorer, averaging 24.3 points per game, but could only muster eight points against the Warriors. Scoring 11 would have done the trick.
“That shot was in; it was in,” BKW Head Coach Andy Wright said. “If you make a shot like that, you’re probably all set for overtime. That shot will be something the boy remembers, but he’s got a lot of basketball ahead of him.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to beat the state-ranked Warriors. The way the game ended, it was that much harder to swallow the loss.
“We can hang our heads, but we have nothing to be ashamed of,” Wright said. “If we played them 10 times, we’d win seven.”
Joel Wincowski, Section 2’s second-leading scorer (26.7 points per game), drained a three-pointer at the beginning of the third quarter to give Lake George a 30-to-20 lead. But, BKW hung tough, taking the lead, 41 to 40, after Tristan Wilson made a three-pointer late in the third quarter.
Both teams were held considerably under their points-per-game average. They wanted to run up-tempo offenses, but were held in the trenches by the opposing defenses. When the Bulldogs or the Warriors were able to sprint down the court, interesting sequences played out.
“The importance of the game sometimes tends to be a factor in slowing down the offense,” Jones said. “Plus, both teams played good defense, paying attention to what the other team does best.”
Fouls were an issue down the stretch. At the start of the fourth quarter, both teams were in the foul bonus, meaning players would automatically shoot free throws if fouled. Collectively, BKW (12 of 20) and Lake George (13 of 30) shot 50 percent from the free-throw line last Friday.
The free throws bogged down the flow of the contest. The officiating was not consistent.
Wright told The Enterprise that the game wasn’t fun to coach or watch, but it was competitive and emotional. “The quality of basketball wasn’t there,” he said. “Tightening up and then loosening up the officiating is not going to benefit a team that’s big and strong because we go all out. It wasn’t a great display.”
With 50 seconds remaining in regulation play, and Lake George ahead by two points, Wilson dribbled up the floor, eventually driving the lane on two Warriors’ defenders. The ball came loose, and the Bulldogs’ Maclin Norray wrestled for possession with Greg Rosenthal for a few seconds until Rosenthal stripped the ball, dribbling the other way.
Precious seconds ticked away before BKW could foul to stop the game clock. Norray and Rosenthal were tied up long enough to grant a jump ball, but the whistle was never blown.
“I was looking to get a foul, and I got bumped,” said Wilson, who scored 13 points, of his final drive. “It shouldn’t come down to the referees anyways. We should have played better.”
Norray, who scored 12 hard points in the paint, also passing the ball very well, may have been looking for a whistle during his battle with Rosenthal.
“You have to close the game out before that even has an effect,” BKW senior Jake Farnam said. “Tonight, we were a little off. We didn’t have our fast- break game, and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
Joel Wincowski was able to post his scoring average while Pitcher struggled to find open shots in Lake George’s defense. Early in the second quarter, Pitcher stepped on a defender’s foot, tweaking his ankle. Pitcher was a little ginger for the rest of the game.
Jones said that he was paying “close attention” to Pitcher, knowing where he was at all times.
“He never got into a rhythm,” said Wright of Pitcher. “I think that tweaked ankle impacted him even though he played over the top of it. I watched a couple of plays where he didn’t have the same push off that he usually does. He’s not particularly quick to begin…he’s smooth, but he needs that step to the side.”
Wilson said that stopping Pitcher was a huge factor in the game. BKW needs its captain to score, but the team showed its depth against Lake George.
“We couldn’t identify our advantages,” senior Tanner Laurie said of the Bulldogs’ post play, where the team usually scores more often. “Some of our players didn’t step up, and I’ll be the first to take the blame. Mistakes got in the way.”
The slower pace made last Friday’s playoff game difficult for both BKW and Lake George.
“It wasn’t the game we both would have liked to play, but they had a target on Garrett and we couldn’t stop Joel,” Wilson said. “That’s what it came down to.”
The ball was in Joel Wincowski’s hands 80 percent of the time, and he rolled back through the offense whenever he passed the ball. He lacked a mid-range game, but kept attacking the basket.
“It’s that glass ceiling,” said Wright. While pacing the sidelines during the second half, he said a four-point Warriors’ lead seemed like 400 points. “We kept looking up at them, trying to get back into it,” he said. “Our defense couldn’t stop them.”
Meanwhile, Jones kept switching up his defensive formation.
“He’s in a man-to-man, then a zone, then a man, and then a trapping zone,” Wright said. “He’s in a full-court man-to-man. He’s moving the defense constantly so he never has to settle in.”
BKW may not have been mentioned in the Class C state rankings, but Jones knows that Lake George took out a legitimate threat to the playoff picture. Class C is loaded with talent every season.
“We didn’t play the type of basketball that’s at this sort of caliber at this time of year,” said Wright. “It’s a terrible way to end the season because we could have made it far. I really believe that.”
The Bulldogs’ season is in the books, but by only an inch.