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February 18, 2013

Unatego boys stand tall, win MAC final in OT

By Dean Russin
The Daily Star

---- — ONEONTA — Jon Wingate was not the last man standing Saturday at Oneonta State, but that was sort of the plan.

Senior reserve guard Wingate took two charges in a 32-second span, setting up the last three points of Unatego’s 53-50 overtime defeat of Sidney as the Spartans successfully defended their Midstate Athletic Conference boys basketball championship.

“Right place, right time,” said Wingate, who played for Sidney in last season’s 43-39 MAC championship loss to Unatego. “I saw them coming and just stood there and hoped for the best.”

Wingate first stepped in front of a driving Damian Zimmer with 41.3 seconds left, giving Unatego (14-4) possession with the score tied at 50. Zimmer fouled out and for a moment, it seemed as if his replacement — senior reserve Austin McCarroll — would own the play of the game.

McCarroll poked the ball away from Tanner Winchester inside the circle for what appeared to be a sure Unatego turnover. But Wingate dived into the loose ball and knocked it to teammate Quinn Barnhart, who made an easy bank shot for a 52-50 lead with 27 seconds to go.

“The key one down there was … McCarroll knocks the ball loose playing good defense on Winchester, we get beat to the loose ball and they get an easy layup,” said Sidney coach Mike Brazee, whose program won the 2011 MAC crown with a 48-36 victory over Unatego. “That was the game right there.”

After a timeout, the Warriors (16-2) went right back to the paint and got the ball to Joe Matzel. Already with game-highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds, the senior center twisted to square up to the basket and sent the cement-footed Wingate crashing to the ground with 9 seconds left.

“He knows what to do,”

Unatego’s Tyler Butler said of Wingate, who returned to the floor when the senior swingman fouled out with 2:43 to go. “He stepped up big and took two charges right at the end. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

“He’s been huge for us,” Butler continued. “He’s been knocking down shots all year and he’s definitely leading our team in charges. Those were huge charges.”

Unatego coach Jim Knight then called for time and subbed in junior guard Johnathan Forte, who made the most of his 9 seconds on the court. The Spartans inbounded to Forte, who was quickly fouled by Mike Ward and made the first of two free throws for the final margin.

“He’s my best free throw shooter,” Knight said of Forte. “That was the right situation (to put Forte in). I’m sure his heart was going 100 mph, but he’s OK.”

Hunter Sowersby missed a desperation three-pointer just before time expired as Unatego escaped with a victory over the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Section Four Class C Tournament.

“This might be a wake-up call if we’ve been coasting a little bit,” said Brazee, whose team had won 16 straight since opening the season with a 66-49 loss to Utica Notre Dame on Nov. 30. “What we’ve got coming up in sectionals is tough.

“I went and watched (eighth-seeded) Odessa-Montour the other night and they’re pretty good. They’ve got a 6-foot-5 kid and they’re decent,” Brazee continued. “They’ve got to play (ninth-seeded) Spencer-Van Etten, which has a foreign exchange student who’s the point guard for the Spanish Junior National Team. It’s not going to get any easier. So if we needed a wake-up call, maybe this is it.”

Sidney, which will host its sectional quarterfinal at 7 p.m. this Saturday, also received double-digit scoring efforts from Zimmer (12 points) and Brandon Walters (10).

Barnhart and Kellen Komenda each scored 12 points to lead Unatego, which received 11 apiece from Butler and Winchester. Butler, who made both ends of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity for the final points of regulation, also grabbed 10 rebounds.

“This win was as big as any,” Knight said. “Last year’s was nice because it had been so long between titles, but this one, not too many people gave us a chance. We gave ourselves a chance.

“We all contributed and we’ve done that all year long,” he continued. “Everybody looks for everybody and we communicate well on offense. We’re the same way on the defensive end. We don’t rely on one guy to shut somebody down. We do it as a team; at least we try.”

The Spartans have little time to come down from their championship high as they’ll host MAC rival Unadilla Valley (10-8), the 10th seed, in a first-round sectional game at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Seventh-seeded Unatego is in the bracket opposite Sidney, meaning it can only play the Warriors again if both teams make it to the March 2 sectional final at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton.

“This win gives us confidence,” Wingate said. “We can beat anybody now.”

Dean Russin can be reached at drussin@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.