Mekeel Christian Academy pieced together one good comeback in Friday night’s Section II Class B quarterfinal game against Cairo-Durham.
A second rally wasn’t to be.
“Our defense started to break down a bit, and then we got back to what we know,” Mustangs senior guard Casey Ballard said after his team’s 63-41 win over the Western Athletic Conference champs at Shenendehowa High School. “We got after them with our man-to-man.”
Cairo-Durham (No. 6 seed, 17-3) surrendered 10 points in the second half, put up 29 of its own, and pulled away to end Mekeel’s 17-game winning streak and bid for a fourth consecutive sectional semifinal berth.
“I love my kids. I love coaching them. I’m proud of the year they had, but tonight was all about Cairo,” said Mekeel coach Chad Bowman. “In the second half, they put together good possession after good possession.”
Mekeel (No. 3, 17-3) was the better team only in the second quarter, when it trimmed a 17-11 deficit down to 34-31. Cairo-Durham had opened the game with a 10-0 spurt, and, after the Lions’ comeback, began the third quarter with an 11-1 burst.
“They asserted themselves early. That was a quick early statement,” said Bowman. “We got more active on defense and started to make some shots, and got back in it. At the half, I thought we had a pretty good shot.”
Herbie Sexton scored all nine of his points in Mekeel’s second-quarter run, including a short jumper that made it 30-29, and Caleb Stewart had six of his 12 points in the period, including a drive that made it 32-31.
“We weren’t going to go away that easily,” said Stewart, one of Mekeel’s six seniors. “Credit that quarter to Herbie’s intensity right there.”
Ballard scored on a putback to end the second quarter, and Danny Dewey nailed a three-pointer and sank two free throws to start and finish Cairo-Durham’s third-quarter run that made it 45-32 with 3:15 left.
“My group has a decent sense of poise. They showed it when they were down, 25-6, in our last game [a 55-45 win over Schalmont], and they showed it tonight when Mekeel came back,” said Cairo-Durham coach Justin Karker. “They maintained their poise, and I demanded that they execute.”
The Mustangs did that at both ends in the put-away second half, when Dewey scored nine of his 11 points and Sawyer Spohler scored seven of his 15. Ballard led the Mustangs with 16 points, nine rebounds and four steals, and Brendan Halligan had 13 points.
“Starting the way we did was huge, and once we got the lead, we didn’t want to give it up,” said Ballard. “They’re a tough team and they came back, but we were prepared for them.”
The Lions managed six points in the third quarter and four in the fourth, and their 41 total represented their second-lowest output this season. The Lions, ranked No. 13 in the state, put up 84 in a first-round win against Hudson Falls and piled up as many as 95 in a December victory over Amsterdam.
Courtney Penson’s three and a layup by Ohieno Miller cut Mekeel’s third-quarter deficit to 45-37 before Chance Ryan scored down low for the Mustangs to end the frame. Halligan and Dewey sandwiched sucessful drives around a Spohler free throw to begin the last quarter.
“The stat of the game I like most is second-half defense. You could see them getting frustrated,” said Karker. “A point of emphasis was to close out all of their shooters. When you lead the section in threes you have to respect that. I think we changed their shots a little.”
Cairo-Durham will meet Schuylerville (No. 2, 19-1) in a semifinal game Tuesday at 6:30 at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The Black Horses beat Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (No. 7, 14-6) Friday, 74-50.
Dewey 4-2-11, Murray 2-0-4, Ryan 2-0-4, Ballard 7-1-16, Spohler 5-5-15, Halligan 5-0-13. Totals: 25-8-63.
MEKEEL CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Penson 3-0-8, Sexton 4-0-9, Senthil 1-0-2, Stewart 5-2-12, Bath 2-0-6, Miller 2-0-4. Totals: 17-2-41.
Cairo-Durham 17 17 13 16 — 63
Mekeel CA 11 20 6 4 — 41
Three-point goals: Dewey, Ballard, Halligan, Penson 2, Sexton, Bath 2.