Devils roll to Upper Delaware Crown
By John Bernhardt
Margaretville boys’ basketball coach Jeremey Marks knows how it feels to play championship basketball.
Marks was a point guard on a championship Margaretville team in the early 1990s. His brother, Nate, was a starter on the last Margaretville basketball team to win the Delaware League Crossover title in 1995. Marks became a living link between Margaretville’s past and the Blue Devils’ present when his 2013 squad toppled Stamford, 52-42, to win the DL’s Upper Division championship and qualify to play for the league title Friday night at SUNY Delhi.
Marks remembers a group of guys who played everything, who moved seamlessly from soccer to basketball to baseball when he wore the orange and blue. When it came to basketball the 1990 era Blue Devils were gym rats, guys who had a crazy love for the game, guys who could almost smell out an open gym to practice their craft.
And, Marks sees similar characteristics between those 1990 teams and his current crop of Blue Devils.
“When we have open gyms they’re here,” explained Marks. “They play AAU, team camp, summer league, so for them to see all that hard work pay off is pretty rewarding.”
There were no guarantees heading into Saturday’s regular season finale. In Stamford, the Blue Devils were almost looking in the mirror, facing a team with an identical 10-2, DL slate, a team Stamford coach Greg O’Connell said before the game had more similarities than differences with their Margaretville opponents. It was winner-take-all with the team on top at the final horn the Upper Division champions.
Off to a slow start
Like a heavyweight championship boxing bout, there was more parsing and posturing in the early moments of the contest than actual strikes. Stamford did score on the opening tip when Matt Anderson buried a baseline jumper, but the baskets were few and far between for the remainder of the period.
The Indians pushed their lead to four points when Greg Mattice somehow banked a twisting, turning shot over a double-team off the glass for a score. But, Mitch Hull hit two foul shots and Kyle Short found the range from beyond the three-point arc for a 5-4 Blue Devils lead.
The lead would change five times in the first half with the Indians pushing ahead, 11-10 when Anderson downed a three-point attempt from the top of the key. Dillon Shaffer answered with a three-point bomb of his own on Margaretville’s next possession. Shortly after, teammate Matt VanValkenburg knocked down a three-point goal stretching the Blue Devils’ lead to 16-11.
VanValkenburg teamed with senior forward Ryan Sanford for the most acrobatic play sequence of the game later in the half. The Blue Devil guard lofted a high lob pass that Sanford, coming off a high screen, played from above the rim, banking a shot off the glass for a score. The half ended with the Blue Devils in front, 22-16.
Visitors bounce back
It was all Stamford in the opening minutes of the second half. The Indians emerged from the locker room with renewed intensity, especially on the defensive end of the floor. When Mattice drove hard down the lane for a score with 4:36 to play in the quarter, the Margaretville lead was down to a single point, 24-23.
Before the contest, O’Connell identified limiting the outside looks at the basket of Margaretville’s shooting guards as one of Stamford’s keys to the game. Over a 2-minute, 25-second stretch of time, the Indians lost track of Short and it cost them severely. Cooper Reither pitched a pass from under the basket finding Short in the corner for a three-point score at the 4:17 mark of the period. With Coach Marks shouting “Swing it!” Dillon Shaffer found Short open on the left wing one minute later with a similar result.
Mattice momentarily showed the Short long-range assault, but the Margaretville guard converted a VanValkenburg pass into another long-range score with 1:52 left in the quarter. Margaretville led, 33-25.
Margaretville extended its advantage to 38-25 by the quarter break and held a 12-point advantage, with only 4:13 left in the game before the Indians rallied. Like he had in a critical fourth quarter comeback win over Hunter-Tannersville earlier in the week, Stamford senior Erik Ehrhart almost willed his team to win.
Ehrhart, who had scored the only Stamford field goal in the final frame buried back-to-back three-point goals in the middle of the frame to ignite the Indians crowd. When Anderson drove the baseline and was fouled, the Indians had shaved eight points off the Blue Devils lead in a one second more than one minute time frame. Margaretville led 40-36 with 3:12 to play.
Neither team scored for over a minute before Margaretville center Mitch Hull launched a three-point attempt with 1:50 on the clock. Hull knew his shot was off when it left his hand and followed it aggressively toward the basket pulling down the offensive rebound for a put-back score and a foul. The big guy’s foul shot was good upping the Blue Devil’s margin to 43-36.
Accurate shooting from the foul line played a huge role in the contest down the stretch. With Stamford using fouls to stop the clock, Margaretville’s sharpshooters dropped in eight consecutive foul shots and 10-of-12 in the final 1:26 of the game.
Hull had a huge night for Margaretville scoring 15 points and pulling down 17 rebounds. His final rebound was the 500th in a three-season varsity career.x
Short hit four, three-point goals as part of a 14-point outing.
Anderson led Stamford with 14 points. Ehrhart added 10 more.
Margaretville will face South Kortright, seven-time winners of the Mountain Division, for the Delaware League title in SUNY Delhi on Friday at 7:30 p.m.