SYRACUSE A year ago, the Beaver River players stood near their bench at the Carrier Dome with quiet resolve, watching Cooperstown accept the Section 3 boys basketball championship banner.
At that very moment, then juniors Alex Hall and Samuel Widrick pledged to themselves and their teammates that a year later, Beaver River would be standing on the top of the Class C basketball world.
Sunday in the Dome, the Beavers made good on their promise. With Widrick scoring 25 points and Hall contributing 12 points and 12 rebounds, Class C-1 champion Beaver River built a big lead then barely held off C-2 titlist Mohawk 68-65 in the overall Class C title game.
Beaver River (20-1), winner of 18 straight games, moves on to the state quarterfinals next Saturday when it will face Section 4 champion Moravia at 1 p.m. at Binghamton High School.
Widrick and Hall insisted the motivation from that loss to Cooperstown was the best inspiration the Beavers could find for another sectional run.
It took awhile to get over that loss because we came so close, said Widrick, who hit five of his teams 10 3-pointers and was named Class C MVP. But it also gave us a reason to work harder in the offseason and do what it took to get back here and win this time.
Said Hall, a Class C all-tourney pick: Losing never feels good. But it probably was a blessing for all of the seniors who came back this year. It was our last chance, and we were willing to do what it took to reach our goal.
Beaver River coach Lynn Petzoldt said his seniors determination and perseverance were the main reasons why his club took the final step this season.
Kids like Alex and Samuel, Tarren Farney, Trevor Lehman, Zack Steiner and Adam Schneider. They work so hard and sacrifice so much for this team, Petzoldt said. You never know if youre ever going to get back here no matter how good you may be. We beat two great teams in Tully and Mohawk, but we just as easily could have been beaten.
Beaver River overcame a monstrous 38-point performance from Mohawk 6-foot-5 senior Carson Murphy. He almost single-handedly carried the Mohicans (20-2) back from as much as a 19-point second-half deficit.
We tried to contain him but he beat us to the basket all game, said Petzoldt of Murphy. And then we kept fouling him and he made almost every free throw (13 in all).
Beaver River started out slowly as Mohawk, which had a 19-game win streak snapped, built a 16-6 lead late in the first quarter. But following a timeout, the Beavers offense began clicking.
Coach told us to stop hurrying and just run our offense for better shots, Hall said. Once we did that, it opened everything up.
The Beavers eventually seized the lead on a short Farney hoop midway through the second period.
Steiner and Farney then hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute of the half as the Beavers built a 37-27 lead at intermission.
Widrick scored eight points in the opening three minutes of the third quarter, including consecutive deep threes, as the Beavers increased the lead to as much as 47-28.
I think having shot here last year, we knew about the poor depth perception and didnt let it bother us, Widrick said.
A Steiner 3-pointer made it 50-33 with 3 ½ minutes left in the quarter. But Murphy scored seven straight points, and Mohawk was able to draw within 54-45 at the three-quarter mark.
Murphy kept scoring. When Widrick missed consecutive 1-and-1 free throws, Murphy got it within 64-58 and a Paul Joyce bucket made it 64-60 as the clock wound down to a minute left.
They were really doubling up on Alex, so that left us with some good looks, Petzoldt said. When the shots are dropping like that, your offense looks great. When they stop falling, we need to show a little more patience.
Steiner, who scored 12 points, converted a big layup at the 22.5-second mark, but Murphy canned two free throws with 17.5 seconds left.
Steiner hit a free throw to build the lead back to 67-62. But the Beavers made a mistake by fouling Murphy taking a three, and he sunk all three foul shots, cutting the lead to 67-65 with 5.5 seconds left.
Steiner hit another free throw with 5.1 seconds to go. Murphy was then well short on a desperation half court heave to tie the game.
A team that shoots like that is tough to beat, Murphy said. But I thought we did a great job of not giving up and battling to the end.
As for heading to the state playoffs, Petzoldt expects another tough opponent. Once you reach this stage, everybody is really good, he said. But these kids know that if they play well, they can beat anybody.