COHOES — After splitting a pair of regular-season meetings, the Stillwater and Maple Hill boys’ basketball teams met for a third and final time Monday with a spot in the state tournament on the line.
The Warriors outlasted the Wildcats to post a 58-53 victory in a back-and-forth battle in the Class C/CC playoff game in front of a capacity crowd at Cohoes High School.
“It’s just incredible. The atmosphere was incredible, and it was a great game,” Stillwater coach Bruce Lilac said. “Coming off a year with no fans, this is amazing. What a game.”
C.J. McNeil had 19 points and five assists for Stillwater, while Lukas Lilac finished with 17 points.
McNeil is the lone senior starter for the Warriors, while the other four – Jaxon Mueller, Lilac, Carter Wichelns and Thomas McDonough – are sophomores.
“It’s awesome. I love playing with them,” McNeil said.
Mueller recorded a double-double for the Warriors, scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. McDonough added 10 rebounds for Stillwater.
“Jaxon [Mueller] hit some big shots for them down the stretch and C.J. [McNeil] just plays steady for them the whole way,” Maple Hill coach Scott Hanrahan said. “Lukas [Lilac] really stepped up for them tonight too.”
Ben Marra scored 17 points to lead Maple Hill, while Brady Cole had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Landon Flach and Luke Hoffman each had eight points for the Wildcats. Flach also pulled down nine rebounds.
Both teams were coming off wins in sectional title games Friday, with Maple Hill topping Fort Plain, 64-60, in the Class C title game, and Stillwater defeating Greenwich, 72-59, in the Class CC championship game.
“This was almost like a hangover game coming off winning the Class CC championship on Friday,” coach Lilac said. “It’s tough to get back up for another tough game after playing one just a couple of days ago.”
This year marked the first time since 2009 that the Class C bracket was split into Class CC and C brackets, meaning that the Class C and CC champions had to meet to decide Section II’s Class C state tournament representative.
Having split a pair of regular-season meetings, both teams knew they were in for a battle Monday.
“Maple Hill is always a good team. Scott [Hanrahan] always has them prepared,” coach Lilac said. “We knew we were in for a battle tonight.”
“It was kind of exactly what I was expecting,” Hanrahan said. “It was two hard-nosed teams going back and forth.
Maple Hill and Stillwater split their regular-season meetings. The Wildcats won at Stillwater, 50-31, on Dec. 20 and the Warriors posted a 45-42 win at Maple Hill on Jan. 25.
“Stillwater runs a great program,” Hanrahan said. “It’s why I like to play them during the season. They’re always tough.”
Monday’s contest was a 32-minute battle between two gritty teams.
Stillwater started quickly, jumping out to an early 6-2 lead before the Wildcats pulled back to within a point at 10-9 with a 7-4 surge.
The Warriors closed the first quarter with a 5-1 run to grab a 15-10 lead.
Maple Hill responded by outscoring the Warriors 16-10 in the second quarter to grab a 26-25 halftime lead.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 39-32 with 1:06 left in the third quarter, only to have the Warriors close the frame with a 7-3 burst to trim the Maple Hill lead to 42-39 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games this year,” coach Lilac said. “This group doesn’t get too emotional. They always stay focused on what they need to do.”
Maple Hill led 49-45 with 3:53 to play before Stillwater mounted a late charge, outscoring the Wildcats 11-4 over the final 2:28.
“It was a great game with a great atmosphere in a packed gym,” Hanrahan said. “We just came up a little short at the end.”
Mueller scored four points for the Warriors in the final 2:28, while McNeil scored six of the final eight points, including a game-clinching steal and layup with 10 seconds to play to make it 58-53.
“We came up big when we needed it the most,” McNeil said.
After going 7-for-16 through three quarters from the free throw line, and missing their first three of the fourth, Stillwater went 7-for-7 from the stripe in the final 2:20 to help seal the win.
“We made our free throws when they counted the most,” coach Lilac said. “We struggled for a lot of the game because I think we were a little tight. We got them to fall when we needed them to though.”
This is Stillwater’s first trip to the state tournament since it won the 2006 Class CC and Class CC/C playoff games in 2006.
“These kids deserve it. This is a great group, they’re very coachable and they work hard every day,” coach Lilac said.
Stillwater (21-3), which is ranked 12th in the latest state Class C poll, moves on to face either Section VII champion Moriah or Section X champion Madrid-Waddington in Saturday’s regional finals at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy at 2:30 p.m.
“Saturday’s game is going to be a home game for us. It will be nice not to have to take the long bus ride north,” coach Lilac said. “We’re looking forward to having a lot of support behind us again. The community has always been good to us.”
Moriah (20-1 overall) and Madrid-Waddington (18-5 overall) are slated to play their sub-regional game Wednesday at SUNY Canton at 7:45 p.m. Moriah is ranked third in the latest Class C state rankings, while Madrid-Waddington is 19th.
“We’ve got a week to get ready. I’ve got a great coaching staff with me though and without them, it wouldn’t be Stillwater basketball,” coach Lilac said. “No matter who we face Saturday, it will be a tough game.”
Maple Hill, which is ranked 15th in the latest state Class C poll, finished its season with an 18-6 overall record.
“Nobody can take anything away from what this group accomplished,” Hanrahan said. “They won a sectional championship. They just came up a little bit short tonight. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. We gave ourselves an opportunity though, and we made the most of this season.”
Maple Hill 10 16 16 11 – 53
Stillwater 15 10 14 19 – 58
Harrington 1-1-3, Cole 3-8-14, Marra 7-0-17, Calautti 0-1-1, Hoffman 4-0-8, Gamello 1-0-2, Flach 3-0-8. Totals 19-10-53.
McNeil 6-5-19, T. McDonough 2-1-6, Lilac 6-4-17, Mueller 4-2-10, Wichelns 2-2-6. Totals 20-14-58.
3-point goals: Maple Hll 5 (Marra 3, Flach 2); Stillwater 4 (McNeil 2, T. McDonough, Lilac).
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Categories: -Sports, High School Sports