BINGHAMTON -- The red and water-filled eyes on the faces of Oneonta High’s players as they left their locker room following a 40-28 loss to Norwich on Saturday night spoke not only about what transpired on the court but circumstances off of it.
Via Brad Zeh’s cell phone, the Yellowjackets boys basketball team had just heard from their coach, Jerry Mackey, who couldn’t attend as he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier in the week.
Every effort-filled movement OHS executed on the Broome County Arena court in the Section Four Class B final made it clear these Yellowjackets wanted so badly to pull an upset, not necessarily for themselves but for their coach.
“There were a lot of tears in there (when Mackey called),” said JV coach Zeh, who coached in Mackey’s place for the second straight game. “... He’s taught those boys in there to be men, I think.”
Unfortunately for the Jackets, Saturday’s opponent proved to be too talented. Try as they did, this OHS squad -- without suspended leading scorer Jordan Gutierrez for the third straight game -- simply lacked the manpower against the unbeaten Purple Tornado.
Even as it won a third straight sectional title, 20-0 Norwich clearly understood what the Yellowjackets (17-3) have been through.
“I can’t say enough about Oneonta and what they did tonight,” said Norwich coach Tom Collier, whose squad handed OHS its only three losses of the season. “They’re shorthanded. Their leading scorer wasn’t here and Jerry Mackey is a hall of fame coach. Brad Zeh does a great job, but you’re losing a hall of fame coach and they’re losing their most valuable player, and they hung with us the whole night. That’s a credit to their team and their program. I really want to say to Jerry, he’s a great friend of mine, but he’s a great person. He would do anything to help anyone here. You saw with his kids how hard they played for him.”