Norwich’s history-making third consecutive sectional championship could not have come any other way.
The top-seeded Purple Tornado limited second-seeded Oneonta to one field goal and three points through the first 12 minutes of the second half in a 40-28 victory in the Section 4 Class B boys basketball final Saturday night at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
“When you play defense like that, you can be in any game,” senior guard Michael Sutton said. “We obviously work very hard on ‘D’ and it showed tonight. We didn’t play that well on offense, but our defense kept us in the game.”
This year’s team became the first in the program’s storied history to win three straight sectional titles, with Sutton and fellow seniors Michael D’Abbraccio and Storm Cook there for all three.
“It’s never been done in Norwich history,” Sutton said. “Me, Michael D’Abbraccio and Storm Cook are the only ones to do it, so it’s pretty special.”
Sutton scored 10 points and Cook scored all nine of his in the first half, including seven in the second quarter. Zan Stewart led Norwich with 11 points.
The next task is to win a state playoff game, something Norwich was unable to do in the previous two years. Norwich (20-0) takes on Section 3 champion Syracuse Westhill in a state quarterfinal at 1:45 p.m. March 8 at the Binghamton University Events Center. Westhill, which beat Norwich 59-58 in last year’s state tournament, is ranked first in the state in Class B. Norwich is third.
Oneonta finished 17-3, with all three losses coming to the Purple Tornado. The Yellowjackets were without head coach Jerry Mackey, who disclosed to the team Wednesday that has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Junior varsity coach Brad Zeh filled in for Mackey.
“He puts a lot of time and effort into this program,” Zeh said. “Every one of these kids would be proud to say they are his son and vice versa, for him to be their father. He talked to the team after via the cell phone and there were a lot of tears in there, I think more or less being separated from him.
“The kids came in here believing. They had a great six or seven days of practice with me and I couldn’t have been prouder of their concentration and their effort. There wasn’t one excuse made in the locker room right now.”
Signs reading “Team Mackey” and “Make Coach Proud” were displayed in the Oneonta cheering section. At the start of the fourth quarter, with the Yellowjackets trailing 32-21, students began chanting, “Do it for Mackey.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Jerry Mackey,” Norwich head coach Tom Collier said. “He’s a great coach and a great teacher, but he’s an even better person. That’s the thing about Jerry Mackey people need to know. He’s just a tremendous person. … We celebrate tonight, but we feel for Jerry Mackey and keep the faith and hopefully everything will work out for Jerry.”
Oneonta, which lost to Norwich by scores of 55-48 and 65-42 during the regular season, was within 15-10 after one quarter and 24-18 at halftime. But Norwich gave up just a single field goal in the third quarter and scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to lead 38-21.
The Yellowjackets didn’t hit their second shot of the second half until Albert Odero’s hoop with 3 minutes, 22 seconds remaining.
“They’re long, they get out on jump shooters very quick and when you get by somebody there’s two or three more white jerseys coming at you to help,” Zeh said. “They play great, great, great team defense.”
Paul Bischoff led Oneonta with 12 points and Odero scored 10.
Norwich wasn’t having its best offensive night either and was without starting swingman Michael Oralls for the second half after he hurt his ankle. Collier said he’s hopeful the injury was only a sprain and Oralls will be available next weekend.
Collier said D’Abbraccio provided a big lift off the bench in Oralls’ absence along with Colin Stewart.
Collier gave credit to Oneonta for mixing up its defenses and guarding well, but the bottom line was Norwich guarded even better.
“We could have shot better and we didn’t, but at the end of the night defense wins championships and we held them to 28 points,” Collier said.