Marcus Davis and Justin Kislowski didn't start for Saratoga Springs in the Section II Class AA boys' basketball title game, but they're the ones who finished it, combining for the final five points after a last gasp from Bethlehem.
Davis dropped in a layup, and Kislowski turned an offensive rebound into two free throws before Davis added another to cap the Blue Streaks' 69-58 win last Saturday at Cool Insuring Arena when they gifted the program with its first area championship since 1988.
"You can't win if you have one guy show up every night," tournament most valuable player Aidan Holmes said.
In a continuation from the regular season, Saratoga got big contributions from starters and its deep cast of reserves in beating Colonie, Shenendehowa and Bethlehem to end its long title drought. Without Charlie Beck's 17 points off the bench against Shenendehowa in the semifinals, there's a good chance Saratoga doesn't even get a crack at that elusive crown.
"A big part of our success is guys being ready," Saratoga coach Matt Usher said. "They've really bought into their roles, and the way we do things against different matchups, they know, 'Tonight might be my night.'"
Holmes had a couple of really good nights with 28 points when Saratoga topped Shenendehowa 60-53, and then 23 in the title game, when he joined his dad, Saratoga alum Kevin Holmes, as a sectional champion. Davis scored 12 points and made the all-tournament team. Mike Rogan played a significant role in the title game, too, scoring 11 points, and, like Kislowski, snaring seven rebounds.
"It's been a great week," Usher said. "It's great to see the community enjoy the success of these guys and to hear from so many former players and alumni. We're proud of what we've done. We're not ready to be finished yet."
Saratoga (20-3) has its first regional game in 31 years Saturday against West Genesee (19-4) at 3:45 p.m. at Onondaga Community College. A pair of Section II girls' teams from Mechanicville and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons are competing in the state tournament for the first time in 30 years.
"It's been a long time," Usher said. "I'm happy that this group could do it. The guys in college helped pave the way for these guys."
Holmes said it's a tight-knit group that got it done, that got past Colonie in a 41-39 quarterfinal squeaker before knocking off the last two Class AA champions. Colonie had eliminated Saratoga in the semifinals of the 2018 tournament.
"It all starts in the locker room, and that carries out to the court," the junior guard said. "It's easy to play for each other and fight for each other when you're all friends."
Saratoga forged forward against Bethlehem even while its frontcourt tandem of Nate Chuddy and Will Fox were experiencing foul trouble. Chuddy's eight points included consecutive jumpers early in the fourth quarter that gave the Blue Streaks an 11-point lead.
"We have scoring one through however many get on the court," Holmes said. "And when someone scores, were happy for them. We're not losing trust with any group that gets out there."
Usher said he'd thoroughly enjoy another week — or more — with his team that includes seven seniors. That will take regional success against a West Genesee team that includes Siena College commit Luke Sutherland. Saratoga's last regional appearance in 1988 ended with wins over Middletown and Scarsdale before the Blue Streaks bowed to eventual champ McQuaid in the state semifinals.
That state final four Saratoga team had Joe Britton among its lead players, and his son Luke Britton was a late-season call-up from the junior varsity.
"Once we accomplish what we accomplish, we'll take a breath," Usher said. "We've got room to grow as a team. We don't want it to be done."
"We want to make the most out of this run," Holmes said. "That night [after winning the title] and the first couple days we got a lot of attention, and that was our time. It was cool. We can always look back at that. Right now, it's about moving forward. That's our focus."
Sutherland earned the Section III tournament MVP award after getting 10 points and 13 rebounds in a 41-38 title-game win over Utica-Notre Dame. Like Saratoga, West Genesee ended a lengthy sectional drought with its first championship in 25 years.
"They just did the same thing we did," Holmes said. "We know they're going to be good and we've got to play our best to win. If we battle for 32 minutes like we have been, I like our chances."
Troy (20-4) will pay Jamesville-DeWitt (19-3) in a Class A regional final Saturday at OCC at 1:45 p.m.
Class D Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville (20-3) is the only Section II boys' team playing locally Saturday, against Wells (17-5) at Hudson Valley Community College (2:45 p.m.). Class B Glens Falls (24-1) meets Ogdensburg Free Academy (23-1) at SUNY Potsdam (4:30 p.m.). Class C Lake George (25-0) plays Moriah (17-6) at Beekmantown High School (2 p.m.). Lake George tied the Section II record with its 53rd straight win when it topped Madrid-Waddington in a sub-regional.