A couple of so-so performances have dotted Mekeel Christian Academy’s 17-game winning streak. Another one won’t do when the Lions continue their quest for that elusive second Section II basketball championship tonight.
“We’re looking at a really good team. To get to the final four, we’ve got to play a great game,” Mekeel coach Chad Bowman said after Thursday’s prep for Patroon Conference representative Cairo-Durham. “We can’t be average and expect to advance.”
The Lions and the Mustangs meet today at 5 in the first game of a Class B quarterfinal double-header at Shenendehowa High School. Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk and Schuylerville tangle at 6:30.
“They play in a Class B conference. They have six seniors, and they’re a hungry team that wants to get to Glens Falls [Civic Center]. They’re in the top 10 in Section II in three-pointers and free throws,” Bowman said. “I think they can go to the finals.”
That’s somewhere Mekeel hasn’t been since 2007 when, as Schenectady Christian School, it captured the Section II Class CC championship and then claimed a state regional title. Four of Bowman’s five squads afterward were derailed in the Section II semifinal round, including last year’s group that bowed to Cohoes.
“As a team, we talk about tomorrow, our next opponent,” said Bowman. “We spent a lot of time working on Hudson Falls. We’ve spent a lot of time working on Cairo-Durham. We hope to spend a lot of time working on Ravena or Schuylerville.”
Mekeel (No. 3 seed, 17-2) defeated Hudson Falls in first-round play Tuesday behind Caleb Stewart’s 34 points and Ohieno Miller’s 15, 84-45, while Cairo-Durham (No. 6, 16-3) rallied for a 55-45 victory over Schalmont. The results set up a rematch between Mekeel and Cairo-Durham after the teams split a pair of non-league games last season.
“Last year as juniors, they beat us in a non-league game [55-52] just before the sectionals,” said Bowman. “We’re very familiar with them.”
Brendan Halligan scored 17 points, and Chance Ryan and Sawyer Spohler both netted 13 when Cairo-Durham topped Schalmont. The Mustangs were down after the first quarter, 17-4, and trailed in the second period, 25-6, before battling back for their first sectional triumph since 2007.
“That says they have a senior group that didn’t panic, and stayed together,” said Bowman.
Cairo-Durham has won five straight games since a 59-58 loss to Rensselaer. The Mustangs other losses came against Saugerties (55-51) and Patroon champ Catskill (58-49).
Mekeel lost to Mayfield (45-44) and Mechanicville (35-33) before putting together its long winning streak and climbing to No. 13 in the state Class B rankings. Along the way, Mekeel won the Western Athletic Conference Southern Division championship, the WAC Cup title and placed first at the Gloversville tournament by beating the Dragons and another Class A team in Amsterdam.
“This is probably the craziest year I’ve had, as far as injuries and kids missing, but I like the way we’re playing right now,” said Bowman.
Mekeel beat Fort Plain (77-33) and Canajoharie (64-41) to secure the WAC overall title before putting the clamps on Hudson Falls. The Lions were up at the half in that contest, 48-21.
“Our defense has improved throughout the year. That was a real problem early in the year,” said Bowman. “We’re much more effective now. The kids are playing anticipation defense rather than reacting, and the results have been much more favorable.”
Mekeel will be missing one of its top defenders in Dan Alteri, who sustained a season-ending knee injury during the WAC Cup event.
“He gave us great energy and effort,” Bowman said of the senior forward. “We’re going to miss him. He was an important player for us in terms of all the things he did.”
Schuylerville (No. 2, 18-1) beat Granville for its 17th straight win, 60-43, and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (No. 7, 14-5) beat Hudson, 70-44, to set up tonight’s second game at Shenendehowa.
In a Class B quarterfinal double-header at Hudson Valley Community College tonight, Cohoes (No. 5, 12-7) meets Catskill (No. 4, 18-1) at 6:30, and Broadalbin-Perth (No. 8, 9-10) meets reigning champ Watervliet (No. 1, 11-8, five forfeit losses) at 8. Jordan Gleason scored a career-high 40 points and matched his own school record with eight three-point baskets in the Cannoneers’ 87-47 first-round win against Greenville.