Upper Delaware League crown a three-way tie

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By John Bernhardt
Three teams. Three days. Two nights. That’s the backdrop of an Upper Division basketball drama unique to the Delaware League (DL).

Only three days remain in the DL boys’ regular basketball season, and the Upper Division title is still up for grabs. Three teams; Hunter-Tannersville, Margaretville, and Stamford sit atop the Upper Division standings with identical 9-2 records. With action slated for tonight (Wednesday) and Friday, it’s possible an Upper Division Champion could emerge by the end of the week.
Rewind to last Tuesday night. At that time, Margaretville and Hunter stood together, 8-1, at the top of the standings with the Blue Devils headed to Tannersville for a showdown. Stamford watched from the sidelines in third place at 7-2.

Margaretville ran into an offensive juggernaut when it faced senior Zach Mudge on Tuesday. Mudge was everywhere; pulling off long defensive rebounds and dribbling coast-to-coast for scores, splitting defenders as he twisted and turned through the three-second lane, picking a Blue Devil ball handler’s pocket and driving for a basket or burying a jump shot from behind the three-point arc.
Matt VanValkenburg opened the game with a three-point shot, and Mitch Hull followed with an old-fashioned three-point tally putting the Blue Devils in front 6-0. Neil Statts got H-T on the board by putting back a missed Wildcat attempt.

Mudge takes over
That’s when the Zach Mudge show got underway. Mudge would score 18 of his team’s next 20 points, capping the run with a three-point strike just before the half. His drive down the lane and dump pass to Jordan Ratcliffe for a score just before the horn put H-T in front, 24-14, at the half.
Ratcliffe would play a big role in the H-T victory. After watching Margaretville guard Kyle Short sink six, three-point shots when the Blue Devils beat his team in Margaretville, coach Chris Glennon decided to employ a box-and-one defense with Radcliffe covering Short. The strategy worked as Short couldn’t shake loose with enough time to get off his trademark outside shot. The Margaretville guard would only make one field goal in the game.

Foul trouble also hindered the visitors. Margaretville senior center Mitch Hull picked up his second foul with his team leading 6-0 and less than four minutes gone in the first quarter. Hull would play very little for the rest of the half.

Back in the game
Things didn’t improve for Hull after intermission when the Blue Devils’ big man picked up his third foul at 5:11 point in the third quarter. Trying to protect Hull, Margaretville coach Jeremey Marks opted to use an offense/defense strategy trying to keep Hull on the floor when the Blue Devils had the ball and inserting Sean Gauntt in the game to play defense.

Trailing 29-21, the Blue Devils made a serious run in the fourth quarter. Margaretville scored seven of the first nine points of the period starting with a Short pass finding Ryan Sanford at the end of the Wildcat press for a layup. Mudge answered with a pull-up jumper in the middle of the lane before a Short three-point goal and a Cooper Reither jumper from the baseline shaved the lead to 31-28.

The Wildcats put back a missed shot, but Hull scored from the blocks to keep the difference at three points. Radcliffe finished a banker from in front of the rim before VanValkenburg nailed a long-range bomb with Margaretville now trailing 35-33 with less than three minutes to play. The Blue Devils made a defensive stop but missed a chance to tie when a baseline jumper glanced off the rim.

The failure to secure defensive rebounds after two more defensive stops and a questionable intentional foul call when a Margaretville defender attempted to stop a breakaway lay-up proved lethal down the stretch with Hunter securing the top spot in the standings with a 44-35 decision.
With the Wildcats now controlling their own destiny, Margaretville got a huge helping hand two nights later when Roxbury stunned H-T, 41-39, on the Rockets’ home court. Dakota Caronia was the hero, grabbing a teammate’s missed foul shot with the game locked at 39-39 and only four seconds to play. Caronia drove to the basket for the game-winner, capping off a game-high 16-point scoring effort.

Roxbury led early in the contest, taking a 22-16 lead at the half. Iron tight Wildcat defense limited the Rockets to only five points in the third frame as Hunter erased the deficit leading by a single point entering the final eight minutes.

Spencer Hinkley, always a defensive catalyst, reached double figures for Roxbury scoring 10 points that included two, three-point goals and a four-of-five night from the foul line. Eric Shultis added eight points and nine rebounds for the Rockets.

A tough Roxbury defense limited Mudge to a 15-point night. Danny Legg scored 12 for H-T.
The win improved Roxbury’s DL record to 6-5.
A blowout 55-23 Margaretville victory over Windham Thursday night thrust the race back into a tie, this time, with three schools crammed at the top of the Upper Division heap. Stamford cranked up their defense and held Davenport to only 11 points after halftime, beating the Indians, 40-30, to earn a share of first place.

The title saga continues tonight with Stamford hosting H-T and Margaretville welcoming Davenport. H-T edged Stamford by two points, and Margaretville nosed Davenport in overtime earlier in the season.
Margaretville squares off against Stamford Friday, finishing the regular season at home.