Two preseason goals down. One important and much tougher goal to conquer for the Carthage boys basketball team.
Despite a slow start, the top-seeded Comets rallied in the final three quarters to beat No. 2 Immaculate Heart Central 52-37 Thursday night and claim the Frontier League A Division playoff championship.
Along with earning the regular-season crown, coach Jeff Ventiquattros club is now two-thirds of the way to completing a winning trifecta.
Adding a Section 3 Class A title in the next few weeks is the ultimate goal for a team that rolled through the regular season with 17 consecutive wins without a loss.
We took care of business in the league, said Carthage senior Andrew Smith, who hit five 3-point baskets and led the Comets with 18 points. Now we want the No. 1 seed and are ready to test ourselves against the Syracuse and Utica city schools.
Carthage plays a nonleague game at Whitesboro on Saturday to conclude the regular season.
If the Comets win, they will be the top seed in the Class A bracket. A loss, however, and they could fall to as low as the third seed due to the new sectional point system.
The kids have done exactly what we wanted, Ventiquattro said. Tonight wasnt our best effort, but any win this season is good. But we know it only gets tougher from here, and weve got to start playing better.
After getting blown out by Carthage by 39 and 32 points in the two regular-season meetings, IHC coach Mike Delaney changed strategy on the bigger JCC court and made it more of a half-court game.
That worked for a half as IHC (13-5) held the ball out against the Carthage zone, forcing the Comets to switch to a man-to-man.
IHCs zone defense also forced a bunch of quick Carthage shots in the first quarter, and Delaneys club raced to a 16-7 lead after the first period.
We were patient and executed really well the first quarter, then got out on their shooters, Delaney said. But you have to pick your poison. Either defend the inside really hard or give up some of those perimeter shots. When they started making them, we had a hard time stopping them.
After going just 1-for-6 from 3-point range in the first quarter, Smith hit two and Peyton McLaurin (13 points) one in the second quarter to open things up.
Walter Jeter (12 points) also got going with a couple of inside hoops and IHC managed just three baskets, falling behind 24-22 at halftime.
We were too hesitant and passive on offense that first quarter, said Smith, one of four Carthage starters averaging in double figures. Switching to a man-to-man helped speed up the game just enough and get the tempo more to our liking.
Said Ventiquattro: When you settle for the three and dont attack, thats what happens. Once our ball movement improved, and we got better threes, we started hitting.
McLaurin canned a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter and Smith hit another as Carthage outscored IHC 15-5, surging into a 39-27 lead.
And after taking good care of the ball the first half, the Cavaliers were sloppy much of the second half, turning the ball over frequently without getting a good shot.
If you are going to play that style, you have to execute perfectly the entire game against a team as good as Carthage, Delaney said. Once we got a little careless, they got some easier buckets and we couldnt keep up.
Jude Whalen scored 11 points to lead IHC.
Ventiquattro said earning at least one sectional home game is huge. To get the top seed and avoid (defending champion) Bishop Ludden and Jamesville-DeWitt until the finals would be even bigger, he said.