STAMFORD — Stamford’s boys followed the lead of senior guard Erik Ehrhart to pass their first Delaware League test Wednesday.
The second step comes Friday at Margaretville, where a victory will place the Indians in the DL crossover basketball game for the first time since 1983.
“It was huge,” said Ehrhart, whose 14-point night led Stamford to a 44-41 win over Hunter-Tannersville. “If we lost, we were done for crossovers. This is my last year and I’ve never been to the league championships. I just want to get there.”
Ehrhart scored his team’s first seven points of the final quarter, turning a one-point deficit into a 42-37 lead.
“He’s not leading us in anything (statistically), but he leads us in everything,” Stamford coach Greg O’Connell said of his third-year starter and the lone senior among his starting five. “He just controls everything. He’s a coach on the floor and that’s what a third-year varsity senior is supposed to do, and he does it.”
Stamford (13-3) came into the night tied with H-T and Margaretville atop the Upper Division standings — all three with two league losses.
H-T (12-4, 9-3) was eliminated from the race.
Margaretville defeated Davenport, 41-31, Wednesday to join Stamford at 10-2 in the league standings.
“That’s why you practice for four months,” O’Connell said of the importance of Friday’s game, when the Indians will try to reverse a 48-42 loss to the Blue Devils in the teams’ first meeting this season.
The winner will meet Mountain Division winner South Kortright in the crossover final Feb. 15 at SUNY Delhi.
What transpired on the court Wednesday was baffling at times, sloppy at other times and compelling for most of the fourth quarter.
H-T standout Zach Mudge seemed to be foul trouble seconds after exiting the team bus and Ehrhart also dealt with foul troubles.
But both teams’ offenses were more productive when their senior guards were on the bench.
“I don’t think either team had any ebb or flow with their superstars on the floor,” H-T coach Chris Glennon said.
Mudge, averaging an area-best 21.5 points coming into the game, committed his third foul with 6 minutes, 54 seconds left in the second quarter and wouldn’t return to the game until the third quarter.
Ehrhart’s second foul came with 30 seconds left in the first quarter and he missed a majority of the second quarter.
Still, the teams combined to score four more points than they did in the first quarter.
“If you told me Mudge wouldn’t have a point the whole first half and we’re only up six points, I wouldn’t have believed it,” O’Connell said.
Stamford increased its 26-20 halftime lead to 35-23 when Dustin King made a layup off a pass from Ehrhart with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
However, any thoughts of an Indians runaway ended as H-T scored the next 13 points.
The spurt included deep three-pointers by Mudge and Dylan Legg, both connected from the left side of the circle. Mudge’s three represented his lone field goal of the night as he finished with six points.
When Legg, who scored a game-high 16 points hit a contested jumper from the left wing with two seconds left in the quarter, H-T took a 36-35 lead.
“We were just up 12 points and I’m thinking, how are we down by a point?” said O’Connell, whose team has won five straight since back-to-back losses to H-T and Margaretville in January. “It was a blur. I’ll say this about this group; they don’t panic. All year long, anytime we’re down, we fight back.”
Ehrhart gave Stamford a 37-36 lead on a layup with 6:55 left.
After H-T’s Mike Tancredi tied the score on a free throw with six minutes left, Ehrhart scored the next five points.
First, he drove left, had his shot blocked but stayed with it and hit the follow-up shot to make it 39-37.
With 2:51 left, he hit 1 of 2 free throws after being fouled by Neal Statts on a fastbreak. Then with 1:12 to play and the shot clock running down, Ehrhart attempted a double-pump jumper and was fouled by Legg. He made both free throws for a five-point lead.
Mudge answered with two free throws with one minute left, setting up what was arguably the play of the night.
Legg stole a long cross-court pass by Ehrhart and started up the right side of the floor. He crossed over left near the free throw line and went toward the basket. As he was being fouled he sent a left-handed scoop that kissed gently off the glass and through the rim. It cut the Wildcats’ deficit to 42-41, but Legg missed the free throw that would have tied it.
Sophomore Matt Anderson then made the biggest basket of the night for Stamford. He swished a 15-footer along the right baseline to make it 44-41 with 23 seconds to go.
“He’s our best all-around shooter,” O’Connell said of Anderson, who finished with six points. “He’s a pure scorer. I’m glad he had the confidence to step in that situation. He wanted to take that 15-footer. That was a huge shot.”
The Wildcats had two looks at a tying three-pointer, but Legg misfired both times.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.