For their next trick, the Watervliet Cannoneers must beat a bunch of Gaelic Knights on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Section II champions stunned reigning state champion Burke Catholic of Goshen, 48-47, on Friday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center, in a Class B boys’ state basketball semifinal, Griffin Kelly’s layup beat the buzzer, sending the Cannoneers’ bench into a frenzy of joy.
“I had good position under the hoop, and [Jordan] Gleason found me,” said Kelly, whose only basket of the game kept alive the Cannoneers’ drive for the program’s first state title since winning both the state and Federation titles in 1991. “He made an unselfish play.”
Gleason, who led Watervliet with 24 points, somehow found Kelly in a mass of blue jerseys. He pulled out of his drive midway to the basket, and made a pass that will become part of lore at the school.
The Cannoneers’ 21st straight win earned them a spot in tonight’s state final at 9 against Bishop Ludden of Syracuse.
“I saw Griff out of the corner of my eye,” Gleason said. “I knew he was going to finish.
“We’re all excited. We haven’t done this in a long time.”
The hard-fought final quarter came down to a Watervliet defensive stop, and a decision by the player Watervliet coach Orlando DiBacco wanted to have the ball.
“The play before that, Jordan broke his defender down, got in the lane and missed,” said DiBacco. “We got a great stop, and I was going to come back with the same thing.
“Jordan’s a Division I basketball player, and we’re going to put the ball in his hands.
“He made a play, and the thing is, he didn’t force it. He made a play for his teammate.”
Gleason and Burke Catholic’s Zach Rufer, who had a triple-
double in the Eagles’ regional championship win over Center Moriches, took turns taking over the game.
But Gleason got the last word.
“My teammates got me the ball and let me do what I did,” he said. “Coming into this game, we had a lot of doubters. Everybody was telling us how tough they were.
“We just took that to heart and came out and executed.”
Rufer took control in the third period, as the defending state champions grabbed a 39-34 lead.
Rufer scored nine points in the quarter, including the Eagles’ final seven, the last coming on a three-pointer with 29 seconds left that made it 39-32. Gleason hit two of three from the line with one second left, drawing a foul on his three-point attempt from the left wing.
Gleason one-upped his opponent with a quick five points after Kelly hit two free throws to open the scoring in the fourth.
First, he finished off a steal with a dunk, and then, he buried a three after combining with Johnson on another steal, putting the Section II champs up, 41-39. Billy Garneau got the Eagles even after a timeout, and Rufer put his team back ahead with two free throws.
Gleason responded again, knocking down a long lead-changing trey.
Watervliet fell behind, 10-5, early.
Threes by Antoine Johnson and Tyler McLeod — the latter from well behind the top of the key — gave the Cannoneers their first lead, and Johnson added a basket after picking up a loose ball .as the first quarter ended with te Cannoneers up,13-10.
McLeod hit two jumpers to open the second quarter, and the teams traded baskets with the Cannoneers extending their lead to 21-16.
The Eagles came back, with 6-foot-5 Stan Buzcek connecting twice down low to make it a one-point game.
Gleason scored on a nice reverse layup with 1:42 left in the quarter for a 23-20 Watervliet lead that held at the half.
McLeod had 11 points at the break, with Johnson adding seven, along with a team-high six rebounds. Buczek’s nine points were best for the Eagles at the break.
Bishop Ludden (21-2) defeated Olean (Section VI) in the other “B” semi, 60-44, as Ben Hackett and Daniel Kaigler both scored 18 points.
Longmire 1-0-2, Joyner 1-0-3, Rufer 4-4-13, Polman 1-0-2, M.Kelly 0-0-0, Buczek 6-3-15, Garnau 6-0-12. Totals: 19-7-47.
Gleason 9-3-24, McLeod 5-1-12, G.Kelly
1-2-4, Johnson 3-0-7, Ray 0-1-1, Sanchez 0-0-0. Totals: 17-7-48.
Burke Catholic 10 10 19 8 — 47
Watervliet 13 10 11 14 — 48
Three-point goals: Joyner, Rufer, Gleason 3, McLeod, Johnson.