South Kortright teams make county proud; boys, girls roll to state final four
By John Bernhardt
South Kortright may not be the epicenter of the basketball world but to the residents of the small rural community, and basketball enthusiasts from all over Delaware County, it sure feels that way.
Saturday, everyone from Delaware County was a Rams’ fan. A legion of the SK faithful formed a massive caravan en route to Cortland to watch the Lady Rams battle Sackets Harbor for the right to play in the Final Four of the New York State Class D tournament. After the Rams disposed of the Patriots, the massive throng was on the road again, this time pointed toward Hartwick College in Oneonta. Once there, an overflow crowd watched the South Kortright boys beat New York Mills to win their share of the double Regional Championship and advance to Glens Falls this weekend for the Final Four.
South Kortright 46, Sackets Harbor 42
South Kortright’s girls used a familiar formula at SUNY Cortland Saturday to push past Sackets Harbor to win the Regional Championship and a trip to Hudson Valley Community College and the Final Four. Once again, strong inside play and power rebounding was the foundation of SK’s success. And, the Lady Rams added strategic shooting from the outside to seal the deal.
The opening moments of the game seemed to signal trouble for SK. Danielle Intschert’s two early three-point goals gave the defending champion Patriots an early lead. But, Intschert’s long-rang shooting accuracy in the first quarter may have been a curse for her Patriots. The early bombs seemed to shape Sackets’ game plan, as the Patriots only worked the ball around or over the SK zone looking for additional three-point goals, for the rest of the opening half.
Trailing 8-6, a Courtney Chambers’ steal and feed to Renee Craft was a turning point for SK. Craft downed a three-point shot on SK’s next possession with 1:54 left in the quarter to put SK in front. Intschert hit her third outside bomb of the quarter 30 seconds later to tie the score at 11-11.
Mary Grant posted low, received a pass and took one dribble toward the right wing pulling up for a SK score. Grant used a sharp pass by Cassie McMullen at the front of a fast break and was fouled with 6.2 to play in the quarter. The SK senior calmly hit both shots to end the quarter with the Rams out front by four, 15-11.
SK went right to work in the second frame. A minute into the period, Craft stole the ball in the backcourt and took it coast-to-coast for a lay-up. One possession later, a three-point attempt by Craft was rebounded and put back by McMullen. McMullen’s attempt rolled around the rim and off but was followed up by Nikki Holdridge for a score giving SK a 19-11 lead. Dana Gorman was fouled and hit one of two shots for Sackets’ first score of the period, but Craft used a soft touch to roll a shot around the rim and in from inside the foul line to stretch SK’s advantage to 21-12.
Courtney Allen grabbed a rebound and banked in an unlikely score for the Patriots as she fell out of the lane, but SK used great ball movement as they nearly ran out the shot clock before Tallulah Guadagnino downed a long shot just inside the three-point arch. Sackets hit another foul shot, but Holdridge dished a pass to Grant for a slicing lay-up with just 10 seconds left in the half giving the Rams’ a 10-point margin, 25-15.
At four-feet, nine-inches, Patriot sophomore guard Amber Butcher was by far the smallest player on the court. But, the sophomore dynamo played a huge roll in a second-half Sackets’ charge that nearly wrested the lead from SK. Things changed instantly after intermission as the Patriots stopped trying to work around the SK zone, attacking straight forward instead. The change paid instant dividends when Gorman drove the middle of the zone and handed off a pass to Amanda Rodgers for a banking score. Then it was Butcher’s turn to get into the show. The diminutive guard, shook free deep in the corner on an out-of-bounds play and scored. Moments later Gorman pulled down a long defensive rebound, pushed the ball out on a dribble and found Butcher down the sideline. The tiny guard streaked to the basket downing a left-handed lay-up, and the SK lead was four, 25-21.
Renee Craft nailed an eight-footer from the right baseline to stop the bleeding. But, Olivia Kolb answered form the left corner for Sackets and the lead was back to four. Once again, it was power work off the defensive glass that would make a difference for SK. Mary Grant was fouled putting back a Rams’ missed shot on the last of a three rebound series. Grant calmly swished both shots, and SK was in front, 29-23. But, Butcher simply refused to quit. The lightning fast guard turned a backcourt steal into another lay-up to bring the Patriots back within four. SK fans breathed a sigh of relief when Nikki Holdridge buried a three-point goal before the horn, stretching the Ram lead to 32-25.
The Rams threatened to put the game away in the opening minutes of the fourth. McMullen was fouled grabbing an offensive rebound and hit both shots to stretch the lead to nine. Butcher answered again, this time driving the middle of the zone amongst the SK trees and getting a teardrop shot over outstretched arms for a Sackets’ score.
Quick, accurate passing resulted in two SK foul shots when the Rams threaded four passes through the Patriots’ full court press and Mary Grant was fouled shooting a lay-up. Grant hit both shots to bring the margin back to nine. It was Grant again, this time capitalizing on a Courtney Chambers pass to hit a baseline shot stretching the lead to double digits. Chambers followed with a drive and six-footer and at 40-27, it looked like SK might run away and hide.
Sackets refused to go quietly. On an out-of-bounds play, Butcher caught a pass beyond the arch, drove the lane and was fouled. The tiny sensation hit one of two. The Patriots were stirring again when Intschert hit a three-point goal from the left corner. The tall forward signaled things could get sticky when moments later she drove through the zone to score, cutting the margin to 40-33.
SK took advantage of the foul line with Craft sinking two free shots to slow the Patriots’ charge. Holdridge followed with one of two shots from the line and SK’s lead was back to double digits at 43-33. Butcher hit Rogers with a pass inside for a Sackets’ score. Gorman stole the ball and drove the length or the floor to score and was fouled. Her charity shot cut the margin to 44-38 and with 42 seconds left Sackets hung on by a thread. A Patriot three-point goal with 12 seconds left would narrow the gap to 45-42, but the Sackets’ rally ran out of time, and SK earned a date with destiny next weekend in Troy.
South Kortright 56, New York Mills 45
As is often the case in championship basketball play, seniors rise to the challenge on the big stage. The experiences gleaned during previous hardwood wars are invaluable as teams advance through sectional and state-level competition. That was the case at Hartwick College Saturday night where the undefeated South Kortright Rams squared off against the Section III Champion, New York Mills Marauders. Buoyed by the play of the senior trio of Josh Palmatier, Eric Burns, and Kyle Hotaling, South Kortright stormed past the Marauders, 56-45, and earned their ticket to New York State’s Final Four.
The SK advance did not come without challenges. An enormous legion of SK fans collectively held their breath when, with 3:46 left to play in the third period, Rashawn Herrington was whistled with his third foul. When the Rams’ junior dynamo exited the floor, SK led by only five points, 29-24, opening the door for a New York Mills’ resurgence.
Led by their senior trio, the SK defense stiffened. Defense wins championships. With Herrington on the bench, South Kortright lifted their heralded defense to uncharted levels. For the final four minutes of the period, the SK defensive pursuit of the ball was almost incomprehensible. SK’s defense turned into a swarm of killer bees, with all five defenders aggressively pursuing the ball wherever it was passed. The SK effort completely shut down the Marauder offense limiting New York Mills to only one field goal the rest of the quarter, a three-point bomb just before the buzzer.
Neither team scored for over two minutes after Herrington left. With 1:40 to play in the period, Eric Burns drove past two Marauder defenders, pulled up with a two-foot jump stop at the foul line and buried a 15-foot jump shot. Almost one minute later, Palmatier ripped down a defensive rebound, hit Burns with an outlet pass and the senior guard drove hard, full court, scoring a lay-up and drawing a foul. The foul shot pushed the SK lead to ten, 34-24. Mills finally choked off the SK surge when Ed Schulze drove the lane and kicked a pass out to Edgardo Colon on the right wing. Colon’s three-point goal sent the game into the final eight minutes with SK in front, 34-27.
The first play of the final quarter was a mirror image of the last play of the previous frame. Schulze penetrated the heart of the SK zone and dished a pass to Colon in the exact spot and the junior guard buried another three, and the SK lead was down to four.
With the landscape darkening for the Rams, their seniors rose to the challenge. Burns threaded an incredible, long, fast break bounce pass from the backcourt hitting Hotaling in stride for a score. Colon willed NYM to fight back, driving down the left side of the lane and banking home a shot. But, SK answered. The Rams executed a textbook perfect fast break play that literally brought the house down. Palmatier’s defensive rebounding got it started with the senior hitting Burns near half court with a long outlet. Once again, the steady senior threaded a long bounce pass, this time hitting Herrington in full stride. As the entire gymnasium anticipated a slamming dunk as Herrington floated through the air, the cagey junior bounced a pass of his own back to Burns for a lay-in score. Mills refused to quit. Junior strong forward Jeremy Miller drove hard along the baseline, pulling up to hit a jumper narrowing the score to 38-34.
With the game on the line, the SK seniors shined. The Rams ran off 10 straight points with four different seniors scoring during the spree. Palmatier ignited the outburst by burying a jump shot just beyond the foul line. Moments later, another senior, Dan Many, attacked the basket through the lane, was fouled, and calmly dropped in both four shots.
Next, it was Burns pilfering a steal that he turned into a lay-up. A loose ball scramble provided opportunity for Burns to beat his Mills opponents to the ball. The SK playmaker took one dribble then threaded another bounce pass hitting Palmatier for a fast-break basket. The final points of the series involved almost every senior. Many yanked down a defensive board, directed an outlet pass to Burns, the senior guard passing ahead to Palmatier, and Palmatier finding Hotaling cutting for a lay-up. The senior center was fouled and hit both shots, and, in the wink of an eye, SK led, 48-34.
With SK spreading the floor and working the shot clock, the final 2:43 of the game belonged to Herrington. As the Mills defense stretched wide, Herrington’s offensive tools were overpowering. The explosive junior scored the final eight South Kortright points of the game to take game scoring honors with 17.
SK will face Chateaugay in the quarterfinals with game time slated at 11:45 a.m. Friday morning at the Arena in Glens Falls.