ONEONTA – The team’s coach was in the hospital, its leading scorer was in the bleachers and its second leading scorer watched from the bench for nearly the entire second quarter.
No matter for Oneonta High’s boys, who found a way Friday night.
Senior Paul Bischoff poured in 23 points, sophomore Albert Odero had 12 and OHS’ bench players combined for 21 points in the Yellowjackets’ 60-49 Section Four Class B semifinal basketball victory over Susquehanna Valley.
Before a packed house at Anthony C. Drago Gymnasium, OHS pulled away from a 40-40 deadlock early in the fourth quarter to advance to the sectional final for the first time since losing to Seton Catholic Central in the 2012 Class B title game.
“With our coach out, it was extra motivation tonight,” junior reserve Skylar Thompson said of Jerry Mackey, who missed the game with an undisclosed illness. “He’s in the hospital. He’s been sick. He was at practice (Thursday) but something happened. Tonight was definitely for him.”
Junior varsity coach Brad Zeh – the son of longtime OHS boys and girls basketball coach Bob Zeh – took over for Mackey on the bench.
“I told the guys before the game, you’ve heard it from coach Mackey and me, and my dad that this is a program,” said Zeh, who’s coach JV basketball at OHS for the past 14 seasons. “They’re hearing the same language from modified to varsity. It’s a great benefit to be in a program like that. I’m saying all the same things coach Mackey is saying.”
Next up for second-seeded OHS (17-2) is a third meeting with top-seeded and unbeaten Norwich in the sectional final a week from Saturday at the Broome County Arena. The Yellowjackets’ lone losses this came against Southern Tier Athletic Conference champion Norwich, which beat Whitney Point, 78-57, Friday to advance to the final.
Things looked bleak for the Yellowjackets on Friday when Odero – the team’s No. 2 scorer – was whistled for his second foul with 7:09 left in the second quarter. Odero scored a game-high 22 points, including a buzzer-beating layup in the Yellowjackets’ 54-52 victory over Waverly in a sectional quarterfinal Tuesday night.
Odero sat on the bench for the remainder of the first half.
When the Sabers’ Shaynne Rodriguez scored inside nine seconds after Odero went to the bench, third-seeded SV had a 16-12 lead.
OHS, which played for the second straight game without the suspended Jordan Gutierrez – a 24-point-per-game scorer this season – responded with a 16-7 spurt as Gutierrez watched from the stands.
During the spurt, bench player Brock Eichler scored twice off of penetration, fellow reserve Thompson hit a pair of three-pointers and Bischoff scored six points on a three-pointer, a driving layup and a free throw as the Yellowjackets took a 28-23 lead.
When Willy Harrison, another bench player, hit a baseline jumper with 10 seconds left in the half, OHS took a 30-27 lead into halftime.
“I looked everybody in the eye and I told the guys who played with me as ninth- and 10th-graders on the JV, it’s a game all five guys have to play together,” Zeh said of the second-quarter run. “Not one of you is going to pick up for Albert, but five of you can pick up for Albert.”
Following a 10-all standoff in the third quarter, SV forged a 40-40 tie when Jason Fiorentino hit a wing jumper and Caleb Reynolds made a free throw, that point tying the score with 7:05 left.
Then the Yellowjackets embarked on a 10-2 run.
Odero scored the first four points. He gave OHS the lead for keeps on a runner from the right side off glass with 6:15 left. On OHS’ next possession, Odero hit a runner in the lane to make it 44-40 with 5:30 left.
Dave Matthews, who led SV with 20 points but shot 6-for-22 from the field, answered with a pull-up jumper in the lane with 4:15 to go.
That set up the biggest sequence of the night. Bischoff tracked down a loose ball in the left corner. He passed out to Thompson behind the three-point line. Thompson hit a deep three-pointer from left of the circle and was fouled by Jack Lamantia. Thompson hit the free throw to complete the four-point play to give OHS a 48-42 lead with 2:58 remaining.
“I just got the ball from Paul, caught it and shot it, and the guy just hit me after,” said Thompson, who finished 3-for-3 from the field – all three-pointers – in his 11-point night. “It was just a normal jumper, I guess.
“I haven’t had one of those games,” Thompson added of not missing a shot from the field, “but it was nice to have it tonight.”
SV, which lost by double-digits to the Yellowjackets during the regular-season, never drew closer six points thereafter. Bischoff went 7-for-8 from the free throw line, including twice hitting both ends of 1-and-1s, in the closing stretch to help seal it.
“(Free throw shooting is) very important,” said Bischoff, who finished 11-for-14 from the line to lead an OHS squad that went 19-for-28 at the foul line. “I didn’t have my best season from the line, but I’ve spent a lot of time on it. It paid off, I guess.”
Dribble penetration from Bischoff, Odero and Eichler played a huge role against the Sabers’ man-to-man defense. Bischoff repeatedly got into the lane and either finished at the rim or got to the foul line.
“Before the game, we addressed that,” Bischoff said. “Their bigs were exactly as quick as me and Albert, so off the dribble we knew we had the advantage. I just looked to attack every time I caught it.”
Added Bischoff: “That last game (against Waverly) was pretty crazy, but I knew coming into tonight I didn’t want this to be my last game. If it was going to be our last game, I didn’t want it to be because of me.”
Oneonta 60, SV 49
SECTION FOUR CLASS B
3-SUSQUEHANNA VALLEY (12-9): Justin Caroway 1-3 0-0 3, Jason Fiorentino 3-13 0-0 7, Will Gorman 1-2 0-0 2, Alec Grassi 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Haskell 0-4 0-0 0, Jake Hawley 0-0 0-0 0, Jack Lamantia 0-1 0-0 0, Cam Manchester 0-0 0-0 0, David Matthews 6-22 7-9 20, Kyle Novobilski 0-1 0-0 0, Caleb Reynolds 2-6 3-9 7, Shaynne Rodriguez 4-12 2-2 10, Jarod Waitkavicz 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 17-64 12-20 49.
2-ONEONTA (17-2): Albert Odero 4-11 4-7 12, Paul Bischoff 5-14 11-14 23, George Foti 0-6 2-4 2, Mike Wolstenholme 0-2 0-0 0, Brock Eichler 4-6 0-0 8, Ben Southern 1-1 0-0 2, Kevin Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Skylar Thompson 3-3 2-3 11, Willy Harrison 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS: 18-45 19-28 60.
SV14 13 10 12 – 49
Oneonta10 20 10 20 – 60
Three-point field goals: S 3 (Matthews, Caroway, Fiorentino); O 5 (Bischoff 2, Thompson 3).
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.