Ryan Knotek rubbed the corner of his mouth, which was cut on the inside, and talked about battling to move forward in the Section II playoffs Tuesday night.
“I just told myself, I need to start playing,” Knotek said. “We can’t stop here. We have to keep going and work as hard as we can. That’s really what inspired me.”
Clinging to a two-point lead at halftime, No. 6 Saratoga Central Catholic pulled away in the second half to score a 69-53 first-round win over No. 11 Cairo-Durham in the Class B sectionals.
Knotek and the Saints frontcourt did their best to contain the Mustangs’ 6-foot-5 center Ryan Delosa, while Pat O’Rourke ran Spa Catholic’s transition game for the win.
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“We knew it would be tough inside because of their size,” Knotek said. “We knew if we spread out and ran the ball, that’s where we were going to do it.”
The Saints’ three seniors get at least one more game, as does coach John Catone, who previously announced this is his final season after 22 years.
“Knowing every game even could be my last, Ryan’s last, coach’s last, we’re all working hard to win as many games at the end,” O’Rourke said. “It feels like we have the same goal.”
“They accepted that from Day 1 that I was going to work as hard as I could for them right to the very end; they were going to do the same thing for me,” Catone said. “We’ve had a great time. So we live to fight another day.”
The Saints will next face No. 3
Hoosic Valley, a 60-49 winner over No. 14 Cobleskill-Richmondville, in Saturday’s quarterfinals at Hudson Valley Community College at 3 p.m.
Pat and Kevin O’Rourke led Spa Catholic (16-5) with 19 points each.
Six-foot-3 swingman Hunter Phillips led the Mustangs (11-10) with 23 points. Delosa scored nine points.
Cairo made the Saints work for it in the first half, which saw six lead changes and three ties.
The Mustangs tied the game twice in the first seven minutes before taking their first lead on a floater in the lane by Phillips with 57 seconds to go for a 17-16 lead. Pat O’Rourke hit an arcing jumper inside the top of the key with 11 seconds remaining to give the advantage back to the Saints, 18-17.
The teams traded the lead on the first four possessions to start the second quarter, with Pat O’Rourke’s deep three-pointer with 6:25 remaining in the second quarter giving the Saints a 23-21 lead.
Delosa responded 22 seconds later, catching a pass from the corner, taking one step and putting it in to tie it at 23-23, drawing a foul. But he missed the free throw, and Kevin O’Rourke completed a three-point play at the other end, slashing to the hoop for a basket — the ball bouncing high off the rim and in — and sinking the free throw for a 26-23 lead with 5:51 to go before halftime.
Cairo never tied it or took the lead again.
Still, the Mustangs kept at it while the Saints’ first-half play left Catone questioning his players during a timeout with 4:45 to go in the half and Spa Catholic leading 32-25.
“We played hard when we wanted to in the first half,” Pat O’Rourke said after the game. “We need to play the whole game as hard as we can, and that’s what we did in the second half.”
“I told them, this is like being in the NCAA tournament,” Catone said. “It’s one and done. If you can’t get up to play in this after having worked so hard for four months, then this really isn’t for you. They took that to heart in the second half.”
Cairo trimmed it to 34-32 when Phillips sank a three-pointer from the left corner with two seconds remaining before the intermission.
“They did a lot of really good things defensively getting steals, and then they were too impatient, once they got the steal, to turn around and get something good going in transition and capitalize on the steal,” Catone said. “I said, ‘Listen: You’re killing yourselves, defensively, to get the steals, and you turn around and throw the ball in the bleachers.’ … Transition is about being patient. You want to be able to create.”
Phillips 8-6-23, Crowder 2-2-6, Delosa
4-1-9, Halligan 3-2-8, Piano 1-1-3, Hunt 2-0-4. Totals: 20-12-53.
SARATOGA CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Flinton 2-5-9, Carlson 3-1-7, Knotek 4-1-9, K. O’Rourke 9-1-19, P. O’Rourke 8-1-19,
D. O’Rourke 3-0-6. Totals: 29-9-69.
Cairo-Durham 17 15 12 9 — 53
Spa Catholic 18 16 20 15 — 69
Three-point goals: Phillips, P. O’Rourke 2.