Surging Elmira wrapped up its second consecutive Southern Tier Athletic Conference West Division boys basketball championship Monday with a 64-52 victory over Horseheads at Horseheads Middle School.
Junior guard Tyler Moffe scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as the Express won its sixth consecutive game and avenged a December home loss to Horseheads.
Elmira (10-5, 10-3 STAC) will host a STAC tournament semifinal Feb. 12 at Southside High School.
“We’re building a foundation,” first-year Express coach Ryan Johnson said. “We’re setting a foundation for years to come, setting a standard for these kids that you’ve got to come and you’ve got to work hard all the time. Horseheads has set that standard up here and we’re doing the same thing.”
Elmira fell into a 12-4 hole in the first quarter and Johnson, visibly agitated after a wide-open Jacob Stermer made a 3-pointer for Horseheads, called a timeout and loudly let his team know he wasn’t thrilled with its defense.
Elmira responded with a 19-4 run to take the lead for good, though Horseheads stayed within striking distance until the final minute.
“We’ve been working the last couple of weeks on being able to stop people in the half court and I told them as fortunate as we’ve been to get by with our pressure defense full court, for us to become a championship team we have to be able to stop people in a half-court set,” Johnson said.
Stermer led Horseheads (8-7, 8-5 STAC) with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. Devonte Gaskins added 10 points and three players scored nine points.
The Blue Raiders were within 45-44 early in the third quarter before a 6-0 surge gave Elmira a 51-44 advantage. Stermer’s 3-pointer made it a 51-47 game, but that was as close as Horseheads got.
“I thought defensively on the whole we played hard, we really did,” Horseheads coach Jeff Limoncelli said. “There were some breakdowns here and there, but the bottom line is we held them in the low 60s. We felt if we could do that we had a chance to win.
“I thought offensively we didn’t do what we wanted to do and that’s a credit to their defense. The bottom line is they’re athletic, they’re very good and they’re the best team in our division.”
Moffe may be the best player in the division. He made at least two field goals in every quarter and hit four in the fourth, with his 3-pointer after Stermer’s 3, quickly returning the momentum to Elmira’s side.
“He’s tough to guard because he just gets separation with his jumpers. And when he does that he makes them,” Limoncelli said. “In the first half I thought we did a great job (against him). He struggled. Then he just came out and he did what he had to do.”
Alex Bellardini contributed 16 points for Elmira and 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jadakis Brooks had eight points off the bench. Twice in the second half he made shots after Horseheads had closed the lead to one point.
“Jadakis Brooks stepped in and did one hell of a job and I’m very, very proud of him,” Johnson said.
Both teams have qualified for the Section 4 Class AA tournament and are scheduled to close the regular season Wednesday. Elmira hosts Union-Endicott and Horseheads travels to Binghamton.