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What A Year!

Panama Volleyball State Championship; Peru, Bihler Wrestling Wins Highlight Local Year In Sports

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Jaysean Paige stepped off an elevator at the West Virginia University Coliseum one afternoon last February and was immediately greeted by dozens of kids, all wanting an autograph from the senior guard on the Mountaineers’ basketball team.

The Jamestown native, who had just helped WVU to a Big 12 Conference victory over TCU, was more than happy to oblige. It was, in fact, just one of many “signature” moments in 2016 from people who call the western Southern Tier home.

So as we welcome in the New Year today, it’s also appropriate to look back at some of the exciting, memorable and, well, even somber moments from 2016 as told by members of The Post-Journal sports staff.

PANAMA VOLLEYBALL

GLENS FALLS — Together everyone achieves more.

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Several days ago, Panama coach Tammy Hosier stated that her team has been so successful throughout the 2016 campaign due in part to its belief in that saying.

That team-first mindset propelled the Lady Panthers through their non-league and Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association league schedule, the Section VI playoffs, the Far West Regionals and into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Volleyball Championships at the Glens Falls Civic Center without a single loss.

With a perfect season and a state title hanging in the balance in March against Section II’s Argyle in the Class D final, it became apparent just how “together” the skilled group of girls and their strong contingent of loyal fans who made the near six-hour trip from the small village in Chautauqua County really are.

After losing the first set of the championship matchup to the Scots and eventually falling behind, 2-1, the Lady Panthers staged a tremendous rally with their collective backs against the wall.

The end result? A heart-stopping 17-25, 26-24, 24-26, 25-13, 25-14 victory and the first team state title in Panama Central School history.

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“We fell down,” said Panama sophomore libero Maci Johnson, who ended the championship tilt with 16 digs, six points and two aces. “But all season we’ve been able to pull together. And that’s all we try to do. Today was one of the toughest games we’ve ever played. We didn’t play our game at the beginning, but we pulled together the last two (sets). It just means so much.”

The epic rally was keyed by sophomore hitter Madalyn Bowen, who ended up with 33 kills, 16 digs, one assist, one block, seven points and one ace en route to being named the Class D tournament’s MVP.

“(Tammy) Hosier, our coach, she just brings us up,” Bowen emphasized. “Sometimes it takes her to scream at us. But we always, always, always (seem to) find a way. We always have that heart and that determination.”

“We have a bond on and off the court that just pulls us together when we’re down,” sophomore Alexys Marsh (eight kills, four blocks) added. “I think that just being so small, like our community and our team. … I think it’s just amazing that we could pull through and still win.”

Junior Quinn Payne (14 digs, 51 assists, one kill, 16 points and three aces) and Tara Sweeney (nine digs, six kills, 10 points, one ace) were also named to the Class D all-tournament team. Sweeney, Panama’s lone senior, came through with the title-clinching kill in the decisive fifth set as well.

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“We were undefeated all year,” Sweeney stated. “And then to go undefeated (through the state tournament) and then win this — absolutely amazing.”

Junior Gillian Figueroa (one kill, six blocks), freshman Natalie Angeletti (13 digs, 10 kills, 18 points, three aces) and junior Elle Angeletti (six digs, one assist, 11 points, two aces) were also key components of the come-from-behind win for the Lady Panthers.

“It’s unbelievable,” Figueroa said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. I knew we were something special from the first practice. The first time we stepped out on that court, we were just all ready to go, we all were determined. We just have that intensity.”

“It doesn’t feel real,” the duo of Natalie and Elle Angeletti explained. “We’re a family. … I think (the support of our fans) really brought us back to the game when we were falling.”

A game Argyle team, led by all-tournament selections Danielle Sill and Jessie Wilson, gave the Lady Panthers its best shot. However, in the end, it was Panama’s time to shine as it quite frankly has been all season.

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“Our backs were against the wall,” Hosier said. “(When) we started out that (match), we were definitely not our typical team and we kind of went in panic mode. We had to reset, focus, settle down and get back to playing our game.

“It’s definitely a fitting end,” Hosier continued. “You know what, they’ve been determined, they’ve been focused the whole time (and) they work hard. Sometimes it’s not easy to work hard when you’re on your fourth month of a sport. But they never let down and I give them all the credit in the world. … I guess it still feels a little surreal, but it’s amazing.”

— Cody Crandall

BRAD BIHLER’S 138-POUND TITLE

Since he started wrestling at Maple Grove, Brad Bihler has become very familiar with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division II Wrestling Championships.

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After all, heading into his senior season, he was already a multiple-time state qualifier and state-place finisher. Not many wrestlers can say that.

But, not many wrestlers can call themselves state champions, either.

Down to his final chance at the state tournament, the Red Dragon senior came up big, capturing a state title after prevailing over Tanner Cook at 138 pounds, a Section III representative from Central Valley Academy, in the state finals.

Not only does Bihler end his illustrious high school wrestling career as a state champ, but he also became the Maple Grove career wins leader in 2016 as well, finishing with 193 career victories.

Bihler’s other accomplishments this season include compiling an outstanding record of 46-2, claiming individual titles in the Section VI Division II State Qualifier at Jamestown Community College, the Section VI Class D Wrestling Championships, the Niagara Frontier Wrestling Officials Tournament, the Southern Tier Wrestling Officials Association Tournament and the Maple Grove Kickoff Classic, and placing fifth at the ultra-competitive Eastern States Classic.

“It was probably (after) the Niagara Wrestling Officials Tournament … that I was really thinking this could be our year,” said Maple grove coach Tim Shrout. “And then, the next weekend, (Bihler) went out to Eastern States and he took fifth there and basically beat all of the small school kids. That’s when we really thought things were turning the right direction for us.”

In late February, when Bihler found himself on the biggest stage that New York state wrestling has to offer at the Times Union Center in Albany, he did what he has always done throughout his career in Bemus Point. Just win.

In his final match, he defeated Cook courtesy of a hard-fought, intense 4-3 decision.

When asked about that state final, Shrout said, “To go out on a match like that in a close battle, to come out as the victor, after all those years of hard work and all of those close calls was really a great culmination to five years of varsity work that he had put in.”

And essentially, Shrout could not have said it any better.

It was only fitting that Bihler, one of the most decorated and accomplished wrestlers that Maple Grove or even the Southern Tier has ever seen, went out on top.

Following his stellar senior campaign, it’s only fitting that he is named the 2015- 16 Post-Journal Co-Wrestler of the Year.

— Cody Crandall

JAKE PERU’S 182-POUND TITLE

Jake Peru cemented his status as one of the best wrestlers in Falconer program history this season.

Just how good was the junior?

Well, his name was at the top of the Wrestling Review of Western New York’s rankings all season long.

According to Arm Drag Wrestling, Peru claimed individual titles in the Section VI Division II State Qualifier at Jamestown Community College, the Section VI Class

C Wrestling Championships, the Patrick J. Morales Memorial Wrestling Tournament, the Niagara Frontier Wrestling Officials Tournament, the Southern Tier Wrestling Officials Association Tournament and the Harold Jarvis Memorial Wrestling Tournament.

Those accomplishments alone are certainly impressive.

But, Peru elevated himself to an even higher level toward the end of February.

Peru, who qualified for the state tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany at 182 pounds, flawlessly made his way through the field at the state meet before squaring off against Ian Chedzoy, a Section IV representative from Watkins Glen.

With a state championship on the line, Peru came through yet again, just like he had all season, defeating Chedzoy via a 5- 2 decision.

When all was said and done, Peru had compiled a nearly perfect 45-1 record on the season, accumulated 32 pins and now holds the honor of being one of the top wrestlers in New York state.

“We’ve always had high expectations with Jake,” said Falconer coach Drew Wilcox. “This year was no different. I always knew he had the ability to be a state champion.

“I think he was frustrated with the way things ended last year,” Wilcox added. “He started the year injured … and definitely didn’t have his best season and I think he knew he was way better than that and we obviously knew he was. I think he kind of had a chip on his shoulder following last season. To be honest, I think he even surprised himself a little bit. We all knew he had the ability to do this and then to finally do it, I could tell in his mannerisms after he won it was just a huge relief, a huge monkey off his back.”

Peru became the first state champion at Falconer since Jacob Schaus in 1994, who interestingly enough Peru is named after.

“Any time you see a kid reach his goals, it’s very gratifying as a coach,” Wilcox explained. “I think that’s why we coach is to help kids reach their goals and when you watch a kid finally hit his goal that he’s had set since seventh-grade, you can’t help but just be extremely excited for him.”

There is no question that Peru’s resume speaks for itself. He undoubtedly deserves to be the Post Journal’s Co-Wrestler of the Year.

And the scary part for the rest of Section VI and even New York state is, that he still has one more year left of calling Falconer Central School home.

— Cody Crandall

MATTHEW MARSH’S STATE SWIMMING

The picture, taken in March by photographer Mark Anderson, captured the reaction of the family of Matthew Marsh just after the Jamestown High School senior touched the wall at the end of the 50-yard freestyle at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Swimming Championship at the Flickinger Center in Buffalo in March.

The Marsh family’s unbridled joy — Anderson captured them all standing, clapping and smiling — was understandable After all, Matthew had just won the event with a school record-setting and All-American time, and then, after a brief rest, added another state title in the 100 freestyle for the second straight year to cap off the greatest individual career in JHS history.

As Red Raider coach Matthew Moore said earlier this year: “As a member of the Jamestown swim team, Matt has been simply the best.”

——

Frank Hyde was The Post-Journal’s sports editor from 1945-79, an era in which he covered everything from minor league baseball to professional boxing. But of the thousands of articles he crafted during his 35 years, Frank appreciated telling the stories of local athletes the most.

With that in mind, there’s no doubt Frank would have particularly enjoyed the journey that Matthew mapped out for himself during his high school career, which began in the Bemus Point School District and ended at Jamestown’s commencement exercises at Chautauqua Institution. Frank would also have been thrilled to know that the 32nd annual memorial scholarship named in his honor was presented to Matthew after the baccalaureate service at SS. Peter & Paul Church in Jamestown.

Because whether it is in the classroom or in the pool, Matthew, the son of Charlie and Jayne Marsh, always strives to be the best that he can be.

“My favorite part of Matt’s attitude is that it is not prideful,” Moore wrote in his letter of recommendation. “If you didn’t read it in the newspaper, you would never know that Matt was an All-American swimmer with three New York State championship titles. He doesn’t boast about his championships and simply continues to work hard, day in and day out, to accomplish his next set of goals.”

——

If one opened up The Post-Journal and turned to the sports section last winter, it was impossible to miss Matthew’s accomplishments in the pool.

During the 2015-16 season alone, he won two events at the Erie County Interscholastic Conference AA Championships, Class A Championships and Section VI Championships, won the two events at the state meet and pushed his career All-American honors to four. He also owns the JHS school record in the 50 and 100 freestyles, is the current Section VI record holder in the 100 freestyle and has been named the outstanding performer at the sectional championships each of the last two years. All of that, combined with his successes in the classroom, has earned him a scholarship to continue his swimming/academic career at West Virginia University where he will follow in his older brother, Andrew’s, footsteps.

Outside the pool, Matthew is ranked 14th in his class; is a member of the National Honor Society; assists underachieving students set and meet academic goals; volunteers as a timer for the girls swim team; and was the Red Raiders’ leading fundraiser for Carly’s Crossing, which helps raise money to support children with cancer.

“I want to personally thank Matt for the standard he has established for our swimming program, and for our school in general,” wrote Dr. Michael McElrath, JHS principal, in his letter of recommendation.

Added Jennifer Lumia, a JHS biology teacher: “I have worked with many students and (Matthew) is of exceptional intellect, work ethic, personality and potential. It is my belief that he possesses the qualities deserving of the Frank Hyde Memorial Scholarship.”

Matthew, who plans to major in biology at WVU, said in his essay accompanying his scholarship application that he wants “to improve the lives around me.”

Judging from what he’s done during his high school career, he’s off to a great start.

— Scott Kindberg

MAPLE GROVE CROSS COUNTRY

CHENANGO FORKS — Despite all of its success over the years, including two straight Section VI Class D championships, one thing has always narrowly evaded the Maple Grove boys cross country team: a state title.

That all changed in November at Chenango Valley State Park.

Keyed by a third-place finish from junior Michael Peppy (16:16.9), a 17th-place finish from sophomore Frank Colburn (17:01.7) and a 20th-place finish from freshman Pete Auer (17:05.7), the Red Dragons stormed to the top of Class D at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships and claimed their first state title in school history with 58 points, three points ahead of the runner-up team, Lake Placid.

In addition, Colin Colburn finished 31st in 17:24.6, Shane Hetrick was 32nd in 17:26.3, Nathan Rowe was 37th in 17:29.9 and Riley Auer was 113th in 22:01.1.

Each runner throughout the season has been pivotal when it comes to the Red Dragons flourishing.

“They are the best bunch of kids (boys and girls) I’ve had,” Maple Grove coach Steve Matteson said moments after the victory. “They enjoy everything. They work hard every workout. They’re up at the crack of dawn, before the crack of dawn (and) they’re working hard after school.”

Michael Peppy was just behind the winner of the Class D race, Kyle Fulk (16:01.4) of Norwood-Norfolk and the runner-up, Dylan Canarelli (16:13.9) of Sauquoit Valley.

“I felt great,” Peppy said after he crossed the finish line third. “We went out here and we ran as hard as we could. I ran as hard as I could. I tried to stick with the top two guys. They are great competitors, they’re great people. It was just a great race. … This boys team is something special and the reason why we’re special is the coaching and (our) community. If it wasn’t for coach Matteson and Coach Doc Rappole, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

One of the many things that has impressed Matteson about his team throughout the season is its team-first attitude.

“They’re in it as a team,” Matteson emphasized. “Even our top guy, Michael Peppy, he’s always asking, ‘How’s the team doing?’ They’re always for each other.” Maple Grove’s girls team turned in another superb performance as well, finishing second in Class D with 57 points. Defending champ Greenwich was the winner with 51 points.

Ava Crist led the way for Maple Grove, finishing in eighth place with a clocking of 19:20.4. Christina Peppy placed 18th (19.46.4), Gracie Auer was 26th (20:13.5), Carling Lockwood was 31st (20:23.7), Bryn Mozzi was 42nd (20.44.1), Kristin Kelemen was 61st (22.01.6) and Riley Caskey was 65th (22.19.2).

“They ran how they could today,” Matteson explained. “They left everything out on the table. I asked them at the beginning of the race to go run the best (they) can. That’s all we ask for. And they ran with their heart, they ran for their team and they just came up (a little bit) short. … I think it’ll become motivation. I think the younger kids got a taste of it this year and they’re going to be ready for it next year. They’re going to want to work hard for next year.”

Cattaraugus-Little Valley’s Abby Gostomski starred in the girls Class D race and put an exclamation point on her fine season. The skilled junior ended up third with a blistering time of 19:04.8, behind only Tully’s Brooke Rauber (18:30.6) and Greenwich’s Brynne Wright (18:39.6).

Bailey Gostomski, Abby’s sister, caped her excellent season with an impressive 15th-place finish. Her time was 19:41.4.

Also in the Class D girls race, Clymer/Sherman/Panama’s Kylee Odell was 29th (20:20.1) and right behind her was Silver Creek’s Emma Seiders in 30th (20:22.5). Frewsburg’s Acacia Barber was 41st (20:40.2).

Among the local boys runners, Randolph’s Matthew Evans placed 12th in Class D (16:49.8), while the Clymer/Sherman/Panama duo of Henry Sullivan and Devyn Chase placed 15th and 50th, respectively. Sullivan’s final clocking was 17:00.3 and Chase’s was 17:54.1.

Gowanda’s Matt Kruszka found himself inside the top 10 in the Class C boys race with a clocking of 16:37.9. He was followed by Fredonia’s Michael Meredith in 45th place (17:30.0), Southwestern’s Eddie Scroxton in 52nd place (17:37.1) and Falconer/Cassadaga Valley’s Ben DePerna in 63rd place (17:43.5).

— Cody Crandall

PANAMA GIRLS BASKETBALL

TROY — A season ago, Panama saw the first state Final Four appearance in school history come to an end with a semifinal loss to eventual champion Heuvelton.

On Sunday, with a state championship hanging in the balance, the Panthers saw star junior Paige McCormick and the Bulldogs crush their dreams once again on the outskirts of Albany.

McCormick scored a game-high 27 points to earn Most Valuable Player honors for a second consecutive year and the Section X champions held on for a 62-60 victory in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D title game at Hudson Valley Community College.

“It’s surreal. It’s indescribable,” Heuvelton coach Rob Powers said about winning another title. “We knew if we were to get back we would have to put in a lot of work in the offseason and we absolutely did that.”

As it has all season, Panama received contributions throughout its starting lineup, but this time the Panthers came up just short in the end.

“In the third quarter, Paige McCormick showed why she is so special. She came alive in the third quarter,” Panama coach Jeff Angeletti said after the game. “If you take that away I think we come out of here with a state championship.”

Heuvelton built its biggest lead early in the fourth quarter when it scored to go up 13 and force Angeletti into a timeout. The basket seemed to signal the end to the season for the Panthers, but they fought back in the final minutes.

Senior Taylor Bowen hit a 3-pointer and her freshman sister Madalyn Bowen scored on a putback on the next possession to pull Panama within eight with 4:33 remaining.

“We knew with the 2-3 zone that we had to get to the middle, get to the paint and get some post touches. Our point guard had to get some penetration. I thought Taylor did a nice job,” Angeletti said. “We found some nice easy buckets there, unfortunately we missed some of the outside shots that could have taken us over that hump.”

Powers called timeout with 4:19 remaining after McCormick picked up a charge for her third personal foul, but Sperry scored on a putback on the ensuing possession to make it 54-48. Madalyn Bowen scored just after a timeout with 1:36 left to make it 55-50.

Heuvelton senior Nathalie Barr hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game with a minute remaining, but Taylor Bowen answered less than 10 seconds later to keep the game within five. McCormick and Madalyn Bowen then traded baskets, but the Panthers had to foul Barr with time running out.

“She’s a special player too,” Angeletti said of Barr. “Luckily she’s a senior and we won’t have to deal with her anymore.”

After a pair of made free throws, Panama missed two 3-pointers and fouled McCormick with 17.4 seconds left. The 6-foot guard/forward uncharacteristically missed both shots and eighth-grader Natalie Angeletti answered with a putback to make it 62-57.

Madison McCormick then missed a pair of free throws for the Bulldogs and Sperry answered with a long 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was too little, too late as the Panthers came up just short.

“She normally makes those shots. She made some good shots to get us back in this game,” Angeletti said of Sperry’s tough day offensively. “It does hurt a little bit making that last one, but it shows that we never give up.”

Sperry led the Panthers with 17 points to go along with five rebounds, two steals, two assists and two blocked shots while Taylor Bowen added 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals.

Both Sperry and Taylor Bowen were named to the Class D All-Tournament team for their two-day performance in the Final Four.

“The legacy that those seniors are leaving to these underclassmen is the greatest thing ever,” Angeletti said. “Success breeds success. We’ll be back.”

Madalyn Bowen chipped in 11 points, seven rebounds and an assist, and was recognized as her team’s Sportsmanship Award winner by tournament committee members.

Angeletti rounded out a group of four Panthers in double figures as she scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds to go along with an assist and a steal.

Junior Nicole Johnson, the fifth member of the Panthers’ starting five, had six points, 10 rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal.

Paige McCormick and her freshman sister Madison McCormick combined for 14 points in the first quarter as Heuvelton took a 17-12 lead, but Paige McCormick picked up her second foul with 33.6 seconds remaining and exited the game.

Panama took advantage of Paige McCormick’s absence early in the second period, scoring the first eight points capped by a pair of offensive rebounds and a diving save by Johnson that turned into a basket for Madalyn Bowen.

“Our plan was, if she was ever out, to keep pressing and take it to the hole,” Taylor Bowen said.

But the Bulldogs answered as Barr scored seven straight points for Heuvelton and the teams entered the halftime break tied at 24.

Paige McCormick took things into her own hands as she returned for the third quarter, scoring 14 of her team’s 23 points as the Bulldogs took a 47-39.

“She makes the whole team better,” Taylor Bowen said about McCormick. “She’s a great player that makes us step up our defense.”

Paige McCormick scored with 21 seconds remaining, leaving Panama with what should have been the last shot of the quarter, but Madison McCormick jumped in a passing lane, stole the ball, and dribbled the length of the floor before making a layup at the buzzer for the eight-point lead.

“It was huge,” Powers said about the buzzer-beating layup. “Maddy doesn’t play like a freshman. We are pretty happy to have her for three more years.”

Now the Panthers’ underclassmen will be left to rebound, knowing that even if they are fortunate enough to reach the state Final Four next season, the McCormick sisters and Heuvelton will likely be standing in their way in search of a third straight state title.

“It’s super tough,” Taylor Bowen said about the two-point loss. “I know next year they are going to get back here and they are going to win it.”

— Matt Spielman

PANAMA BOYS BASKETBALL

GLENS FALLS — With their opponents celebrating at the other end of the floor, Panama’s Josh Odell consoled teammate Josh Eddy.

Panthers guard Chris Blose stood with his shoulders slumped and head down in the lane.

Less than six minutes earlier, nobody could have imagined this is how it would end.

Moriah, the Section VII champion, closed the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D semifinal on a 16-0 run over the final 5:26 to stun Panama, 62-59, on Friday morning at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

“Sometimes it’s not meant to be. Hard work does not always guarantee success,” Panama head coach Ed Nelson said after Eddy’s potential game-tying 3-pointer from the corner rimmed out at the buzzer. “These kids have busted their butt all year long and I think it was right that they busted their butt tonight. The basketball gods were not on our side today in the fourth quarter.”

The win vaulted the Redskins, the state’s No. 1 team according to the New York State Sportswriters Association, into today’s Class D title game against Section III’s Oriskany, which won Friday’s second semifinal, 59-40, over Section I’s Clark Academy.

Entering the fourth quarter earlier Friday, there was little doubt Panama (22-3), the No. 3 team in the state, would be the first semifinal’s representative in the championship game.

Eddy converted a layup and a free throw after being fouled by Moriah big man Adam Jaquish early in the fourth quarter that sent Jaquish to the bench with his fourth foul and gave the Section VI champion Panthers a 16-point lead in the final eight minutes.

“We knew if we were going to compete with these guys, being the No. 1 team in the state, that’s how he had to play,” Nelson said about Eddy, who finished with seven points, 19 rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists. “He played like a man. I was proud of him.”

But that’s when the Vikings’ Taylor Slattery took over the game. The 6-foot-5 senior scored 13 of his team-high 24 points over the final eight minutes as Moriah began to crawl back.

“I knew this was my senior year and it really hit me that we could have lost the game,” Slattery said. “We could have hung our heads down by 13 points going into the fourth, and then things started going our way. We never quit.”

Blose scored with 5:26 remaining to give Panama a 59-46 lead, but that would end up being the Panthers’ last basket of the game.

With 4:26 left, Slattery scored to cut Panama’s lead to eight before the arena erupted just 30 seconds later when Jaquish dove on the floor for a loose ball and thew the ball up to Slattery who exploded to the rim for a dunk to cut the lead to six and force Nelson into a timeout.

“When Adam dove on the ground, he got dirty. He got me that ball and I slammed it,” Slattery said when asked when he thought the comeback was possible. “That place went wild. That was one of the best moments ever.”

A little more than two minutes later Joey Stahl, who finished with nine points, scored what has to be the biggest bucket of his career to give the Vikings a 61-59 lead.

The Panthers had three more chances, but ultimately failed to come through, as the Vikings avenged a 2015 state semifinal loss with the win.

“A lot of teams tried to shy away from those big boys and don’t go after them. We stuck to the game plan the whole time, it was working for three quarters,” Nelson said about the Panthers attacking the much bigger Vikings lineup. “The layups were micro-inches away from falling down and going in. Those kids did the game plan right to the end, but sometimes the shots don’t fall.”

Odell carried Panama in the first half, scoring 19 of his game-high 26 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Fifteen of the points came on 5 of 8 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

“We tried to get somebody out of the stands to cover him,” Moriah head coach Brian Cross quipped. “We tried to limit his touches because he made some of them from 6 or 7 feet beyond the arc. … I knew he could shoot it, but I didn’t know he could from that deep. He got some confidence early on and it showed.”

Blose helped the Panthers maintain their lead in the third quarter, scoring eight of his 16 points in the frame. He also grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with three assists in the game.

“They switched to man-to-man. We knew he could take those guys off the dribble,” Nelson said about Blose. “He dribble-penetrated the paint very well, got to the hoop and got us to the free throw line a couple times.”

The 3-ball wasn’t really falling in the second half,” Nelson continued. “You live by it and you die by it.”

In the end, a 23-7 fourth quarter, one of their worst of the season, was too much for the Panthers to overcome.

“Some of our layup opportunities didn’t fall like we wished that they would’ve,” Odell said. “Maybe the outcome would have been a little different.”

— Matt Spielman

FREDONIA BASEBALL

With Vince Gullo at the helm, the Fredonia baseball team has become a perennial contender for state titles.

This spring, even though the Hillbillies came up just short in the state championship game to Marlboro, it was the Hillbillies’ fifth trip to the state final four under Gullo since 2005.

According to an article written by Gib Snyder in a June edition of The (Dunkirk) OBSERVER, the Hillbillies have gone 272-99 in Gullo’s 15 seasons as head coach. They also hold a 125-43 mark in league play and a 50-13 record in the playoffs. His teams have won seven league titles, have a 9-0 record when playing for a Section VI Class B1 or B2 title, have won seven overall Class B titles, five New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B Far West Regionals and two NYSPHSAA Class B state titles (2006, 2013).

Even after his unprecedented success, Gullo always emphasizes the contributions and tireless work of his outstanding coaching staff, which includes Tim Cowan, Phil Schrader, Jim Rush, Jake McCune, Charlie LaDuca and Terry Presto.

“I (am) very fortunate to have great assistant coaches,” Gullo explained. “I rely so heavily on Charlie LaDuca, Tim Cowan, Terry Presto and Jake McCune. Our practices are super-organized and the level of baseball knowledge that our boys have everyday is far superior than (most) team(s) in the state. … (Our coaching) is such a team, collective effort. I may be the head coach, but we rely on each other.”

Along with their top-notch coaching staff, the Hillbillies also had gifted student-athletes all around the diamond in 2016.

Ace pitcher Jarod Burmaster was honored by the New York State Sportswriters Association as a first-team all-state selection in Class B while fellow teammates Reid Tarnowski, Ryan Mroczka, Lucas Voss and Vince Gullo were all Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 West first-team selections.

“That’s how you know when you have a good team,” Gullo said when asked about his team’s vast array of talent. “When you (can) have (multiple) stars every game. Jarod was a star every game, but he couldn’t do it all himself. Voss and Tarnowski on the mound and Gullo, Mroczka, (Seth) Schrader hitting the ball, we had quite a few stars throughout the year.”

Between the perfect balance of coaching and skill, 2016 became a season the Hillbillies won’t soon forget.

“This season we were a young team,” Gullo emphasized. “Because there were so many B schools in Western New York Section VI, we were hoping we would have a chance to win a B2 section title and hopefully we would be in the B (crossover) game. With Olean, Gowanda, Springville, Alden, there were strong teams. (For us) to get through everybody (all the way to the state title game) was quite remarkable.”

For leading the Hillbillies back to the state final four — a level they have become accustomed to reaching — Gullo is once again The Post-Journal’s Baseball Coach of the Year.

— Cody Crandall

MAPLE GROVE FOOTBALL

SYRACUSE — Lined up in a row, members of the Maple Grove football team took a knee on the turf at Ernie Davis Legends Field and were each presented a New York State Public High School Athletic Association medal.

Unfortunately for the Red Dragons, second place was not what they came to the Carrier Dome for.

Maurice Seymore scored on an 8-yard touchdown run and quarterback Zack Rowland connected with wideout Shawn Lemieux on a perfectly executed two-point conversion pass to send Cambridge of Section II to a dramatic, 22-21, double-overtime victory over Maple Grove in the Class D title game the day after Thanksgiving.

The win gave Indians’ coach Doug Luke his second state championship in five tries, while Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer suffered his first loss after winning titles in 1998 and 2008.

“The last time we were here (in a victory over Clymer in 1999), we got ahead real quick,” Luke said, “and by the end of the game we knew we were going to be state champs. This year, it went right down to the very last play.”

It was that kind of game.

“I wish I could have pulled this out for them,” an emotional Fischer said outside the Red Dragons’ locker room. ” … You can’t take that pain out of them. If I could, I would.”

There were plenty of “what-ifs” in one of the most memorable games in NYSPHSAA history, featuring the kind of twists and turns in the fourth quarter and overtimes that are normally only seen on a Brad Benson run.

Consider:

Ø Both teams had the same number of first downs (17).

Ø Cambridge held a slight edge in total yards (336-313).

Ø Maple Grove ran 66 plays compared to 62 for the Indians.

Ø Both teams turned the ball over three times.

Ø Both squads squandered scoring chances during regulation that could have made overtime unnecessary.

“Oh, oh, yeah, we had all kinds of opportunities,” Fischer said.

In the end, it was Cambridge (13-0) which seized the victory when it appeared defeat was imminent.

“Anytime we needed to do something,” Luke said, “we found a way to do it.”

Tied 14-all after regulation and the first overtime — both teams turned the ball over in their extra-period possession – Maple Grove (12-1) took over at the 20-yard line to start the second OT. On first down, Benson (23 carries, 139 yards) scooted right for 13 yards and then bulled forward for 3 more. Senior quarterback Dalton DuBois followed with a 2-yard keeper and then junior Nick Fabrizio (15 carries, 89 yards) busted into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown, his third of the game. Senior Michel Padilla booted the extra point to give the Red Dragons a 21-14 lead.

Then it was Cambridge’s turn.

After two runs and an incomplete pass, the Indians were faced with a fourth-and-10 from the 20. Maple Grove needed one stop to secure its third state title in program history. That’s when Cambridge junior quarterback Zack Rowland (6-of-13, 140 yards) came up with the first of two monumental plays in the second overtime by connecting with junior tight end Brenden Holcomb for a 12-yard completion and a first down at the Red Dragons’ 8. Holcomb was able to secure the catch while being closely defended by Benson.

“That quarterback made an unbelievable play just to get rid of the ball,” Fischer said.

Added Luke: “We didn’t have a whole lot left in the playbook. I just went down and said, ‘Well, that looks OK.’ … It was a little pick play – like a slant or a post – over the middle. (Rowland) made a real good throw. It was a battle for the ball and I was waiting for the ref to signal first down … or game over.”

Still alive to see another play, Seymore (11 carries, 63 yards) scored on the very next handoff, leaving Luke with a decision to make — kick for a tie or go for the two-point conversion and the win.

Luke chose the latter.

“I wanted it over,” he said. “I said that we’re either going to win this or lose it. It’s a one-play thing.”

Using a play the Indians had practiced all year but had never used in a game, Rowland executed it perfectly, faking a pitch to a running back and then keeping it on a bootleg, giving him time to spot Lemieux open in the end zone for the game-winning conversion pass.

“I kind of thought if they were going to score they’d go for two,” Fischer said. “From our end, I had to go for (the point-after kick) just to put that pressure on them. I don’t regret anything, but it was a well-executed play (by Cambridge).”

Execution was not Maple Grove’s strong suit in the first half as penalties — they were flagged nine times for 94 yards in the game — and a sure touchdown-pass drop kept it tied 14-all at halftime.

Cambridge’s touchdowns came on Ryan McLenithan 1-yard run in the first quarter and Rowland’s 60-yard pass to Jonas Butz in the second period. Maple Grove, meanwhile, used a pair of Fabrizio TD runs of 9 and 2 yards in the second period to make the score tied at intermission.

“We were so tight and making mistakes we’d not made all year,” Fischer said. “We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win in some instances. We were playing careful and that’s when mistakes happen. The biggest thing is they weren’t having fun. They loosened up and started playing a little better in the second half.”

Even though the Red Dragons’ execution was generally better offensively in the third and fourth quarters, they still failed to capitalize in the red zone on two time-consuming drives in each period. The first ended after Fabrizio’s halfback option pass was intercepted by Lemieux in the end zone and the second ended up with no points when Padilla’s 32-yard field goal fell short with 5:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“That’s probably the one I’ll kick myself for,” Fischer said, “because the play before I really wanted to throw a pass, but Fabrizio had been running really well, and I thought if we could get it to fourth-and-2 or fourth-and-3, we were in a position to go for it.”

But Fabrizio was stuffed for no gain on third down, leaving a fourth-and-7, which prompted Fischer to call on Padilla for the field-goal try, which was no good. Cambridge took over at the 20 and marched all the way to the Maple Grove 28, but an Indian running back fumbled and Fabrizio recovered only to have DuBois intercepted with under 30 seconds remaining in regulation. The Indians weren’t able to capitalize, however, and the game went into the first overtime.

The Red Dragons won the coin toss and elected to go on defense to start the extra period, and it appeared to be a good omen as Cambridge’s Colton Dean (12 carries, 51 yards) fumbled on the third play and DuBois recovered. But after a 10-yard run by Benson on first down, Maple Grove turned the ball right back over with a fumble of its own on a missed exchange between DuBois and Benson.

“It looked like (Cambridge) got penetration, which pushed the lineman on Dalton’s ankle and it tripped him up when he was trying to make the handoff,” Fischer said. “Their nose guard (Maxwell Hoffer) is probably the best nose guard we’ve played all year. He got under somebody and he created the fumble.”

That sent the game to the epic second overtime.

“My heart breaks for them,” Fischer said of his team. “When you’re in the position I’m in and this happens today, I take full responsibility. These boys are just young men, (but) when you lose a game like that if you leave every single ounce of energy on the field like that, are you really a loser? No.”

— Scott Kindberg

ABBY GOSTOMSKI’S STEEPLECHASE

CICERO — Leading the race, Abby Gostomski stumbled over a barrier during the fourth lap of her 2,000-meter steeplechase championship Saturday morning at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

The Cattaraugus-Little Valley sophomore was bruised, but she was not beaten.

Gostomski maintained her lead and crossed the finish line in 7:00.17 to win her section and leave her in position to claim the Division II title at the New York State Track & Field Championships.

“It was really exciting because I didn’t think I would be able to do it since I fell,” Gostomski said following the race. “I noticed when I would jump in the water pit that it would hurt a little bit, but I just kept going.”

Less than 10 minutes later, elation turned to disappointment as Fillmore’s Elsa Cole put together an unbelievable final lap of 1:22.722 to win Division II and drop Gostomski to second with a time of 6:58.12.

“It was a great race. It was nerve-wracking because I would have liked to see her in the faster heat,” Cattaraugus-Little Valley coach Katie Scott said. “She just missed the cutoff. She did that time by herself. That takes guts to go out and have to do that all alone.”

Warwick Valley’s Megan Reilly won the overall title with a time of 6:45.34.

The Division II second-place showing capped a memorable season for Gostomski, who qualified for the state meet in three events after winning the 800 meters, 1,500 meters and steeplechase at the Section VI state qualifier last weekend at Pioneer High School.

In Cicero, Gostomski walked away with a seventh-place finish in the 800 meters in addition to her second-place showing in the steeplechase – with a time 8 seconds faster than the state qualifier last weekend. She decided to withdraw from Saturday afternoon’s 1,500 meters after her morning injury.

“It was really fun because I didn’t expect to do amazing compared to every one else,” Gostomski said.

— Matt Spielman

ALL-AMERICAN: SALLYANNE RUDNY

SallyAnne Rudny had opportunities to play volleyball at four-year schools coming off a successful career at Southwestern High School.

But the Lakewood resident trusted Coach Ashley Lund at Jamestown Community College to put her career on the right track.

After four months on the Falconer Street campus, Rudny was rewarded for choosing the Jayhawks as the freshman was named one of 12 All-Americans by the NJCAA Division III Volleyball Committee.

“Just seeing the presence she had at the high school level, I knew coming in that she wanted this,” Lund said. “She wanted to be great and do great things for our team and herself. She really pushed herself this year. She wanted it all, especially the opportunity to try to get to nationals. She really pushed herself and pushed her team to do good things too.”

Rudny, a 5-foot-7 outside hitter, led the nation in kills with 583, including 5.35 per set. The Jayhawks standout was fourth in the country in total attacks with 1,362 and 33rd in hitting percentage at .317.

“The thing about her is that she is so incredibly smart on the court. She knows where to put the ball and when to take a little bit off or take the line shot when the middle is closed,” Lund said. “We know giving the ball to her, she is going to be smart with it. We didn’t play as many teams as some of the other teams. For her to be No. 1 on that list shows that she knows what to do with the ball. Her eye for the court and her ability and strength, it all comes into play for that.”

Rudny also shined from the service line, leading the nation with 689 points, including 6.3 per set. Rudny hit 83 aces, which was good for sixth in the nation.

The fourth All-American selection in Lund’s eight years as head coach, Rudny becomes the seventh Jayhawk to ever be named to the First Team. Others include: Anna Henriksson (2000), Caroline Werdelin (1999), Brooke Sheesley (1998), Asa Gustavsson (1996 and 1997) and Kay Beaver (1996). Lotta Arenbo was named to the Second Team in 1995 while Shannon Gunnell (2014), Lacy Blocker (2009), Kari Barmore (2008), Linda Hallberg (1997) and Karin Aspemar (1996) all received honorable-mention status.

“I love our local talent. I’ve been able to be successful with local talent. I have not stretched my zone any farther than Allegany County, really,” Lund said. “I love the heart and soul that these kids put into the program. They are good kids, they are good athletes. They work hard in school and on the court for me. I appreciate everything that they give to the program every year. I love that they get to do it in front of their home crowd.”

A 2015 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Central Division First-Team All-Star, Rudny shined in her first collegiate match, putting down 24 kills to go along with 20 digs and 26 service points in a five-set win over Monroe CC.

The Aug. 27 victory over the Tribunes was the first of 10 times Rudny eclipsed the 20-kill plateau in 36 matches.

“I definitely thought she would go some place bigger. She definitely has the ability to play at another place,” Lund said. “I sat her on the bench and asked her ‘What do you want out of a program?’ This is what JCC can give you. I’m going to do everything I can as a coach to prepare you for the next level.”

In a 3-0 sweep of SUNY Adirondack on Sept. 17, Rudny had a season-high 27 kills to go along with 29 service points and 12 digs. That same day in a 3-0 sweep of North Country, Rudny served aces on 17 of her 25 points.

At the Region 3 Championships at Niagara County CC on Oct. 29, Rudny had 55 kills and 64 points, including eight aces, as the Jayhawks went 2-1 to put themselves into the regional semifinals the following day.

Against Fulton-Montgomery, Jamestown CC lost 3-1, despite 26 points and 26 kills from Rudny.

Rudny was one of three freshmen named First-Team All-Americans, joining Eastfield (Texas) middle backer Courtanae Calhoun and Northampton (Pennsylvania) outside hitter Katrina Shelly.

“I was very real with her. … If you want to come here, that’s great. It would be wonderful to have you. If not, I wish you well on your journey,” Lund said when explaining her recruitment of Rudny. “I left it at that. When she called and said ‘Hey, I’m coming,’ I just knew she was going to do something great for our program.”

Also on the First Team were Brookhaven (Texas) outside hitter Ashton Blackburn, Central Lakes (Minnesota) middle backer Rachel Mathias, Columbus State (Ohio) middle backer Hannah Wallace, Eastfield (Texas) libero Karina Lay, Harper (Illinois) setter Kayla Mayer, Madison (Wisconsin) outside hitter Andrea Bauer, Rainy River (Minnesota) middle backer Maddie Filipiak, Ridgewater (Minnesota) middle backer Hailey Leiding and Rochester (Minnesota) middle backer Ashley Bichel.

Honorable-mention All-Americans included Itasca (Minnesota) setter Amelia Walz, Lorain County (Ohio) middle backer Maryssa Kellick, Minnesota State middle backer Lexi Frederick, Queensborough middle backer Zuri Williams, Ridgewater (Minnesota) setter Baylie Kubesh and Rock Valley (Illinois) outside hitter Jaycee Cleaver.

“It’s very exciting. There is a little bit of pressure. How do we get her to do even better. How do you live up to what she’s already accomplished,” Lund said about Rudny returning for her sophomore year. “I’ve tried to put together a heck of a recruiting class to do great things as a team and individually.

“She’s set those standards and now we have to work on doing even better. She’s been in the gym and she has her eye on the tiger,” Lund continued. “She’s ready to go. She wants to be better and do better. I’m excited to see what she can accomplish.”

— Matt Spielman

JCC ATHLETES SHINE

SallyAnne Rudny wasn’t the only Jamestown Community College athlete to have a banner 2016.

Jayhawk golfers Patrick Hinkson and Cody Latimer earned second- and third-team NJCAA All-American honors following their performances in June at the national tournament at Chautauqua Golf Club; wrestler Nate Skonieczny placed third at the NJCAA Championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa to earn All-American honors in March; and JCC’s women’s swimming and diving team earned NJCAA Academic All-American honors for its performance in the classroom during the 2015-16 campaign.

JAYSEAN PAIGE: BIG 12 BASKETBALL

When Jamestown native Jaysean Paige was growing up, he endeared himself to Karen Drake, then a physical education teacher at Washington Middle School, who just happens to be the wife of the district’s boys varsity basketball coach.

Even in his early years, the precocious Paige was confident about his hoops talents and wasn’t shy about making bold predictions.

“He would come up to her when he was in fifth grade,” Ben Drake recalled, “and say, ‘Mrs. Drake, tell your husband to get ready for me. I’m coming, I’m going to start next year,’ and Karen would come home and tell me, ‘You better look out for this kid.”’

About a decade later, the Drakes aren’t the only ones paying attention.

Four days ago, Paige was the toast of the Division I college basketball world.

——

The weather one January evening in Morgantown, West Virginia was awful. A mid-afternoon snow squall made the driving conditions treacherous, leaving motorists stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, including thousands who were headed to the West Virginia Coliseum to watch the 11th-ranked Mountaineers take on No. 1 Kansas in a Big 12 Conference showdown.

Among those going nowhere fast was Paige, a senior guard and the team’s sixth man, who was riding to the game with West Virginia teammate Tarik Phillip and Phillip’s mother.

We’ll let John Antonik, a blogger on WVUsports.com, take it from there.

“We were debating whether to sit in the car or not,” Paige told Antonik. “Long story short, I saw big Jon (Holton, a teammate) running up the hill and so I jumped out of the car and started running with him. I had my jacket, big old boots and my shoes, so people knew who we were. We were just running trying to get there.”

Being late was certainly understandable considering the circumstances, but Paige didn’t want to take any chances – not with what was at stake on Tuesday night.

“For a game like this you want to be here,” he explained. “You don’t want to miss this. You don’t want to be late and might not play, or something might happen, so we just wanted to get here on time.”

Phillip’s mother, who was sitting in the backseat because she doesn’t like driving in the snow, ended up taking the wheel and getting the car to the Coliseum.

“She had to drive when we took off,” Paige laughed.

“Taking off” is a perfect metaphor for what has happened to Paige in his final year in Morgantown.

By the end of Tuesday’s nationally televised game — the Mountaineers knocked off the top-ranked Jayhawks, 74-63 — Paige was the big man on campus, scoring a career-high 26 points, including a rim-rattling, two-handed slam dunk seconds before he was swallowed up by thousands of fans who stormed the court in celebration.

“We just tried to come out and match their intensity,” Paige told ESPN’s Holly Rowe immediately after the game. “The Big 12 is a tough conference and we’re at home, so we just have to finish these games.”

“Finishing” is something that Paige has done like no one else on his team. Fact is, as the Mountaineers (15-1) hit the meat of their Big 12 Conference schedule Paige was  arguably their best player and one of the conference’s best guards.

In his last six games, the 6-foot-2 sixth man is averaging better than 17 points. Among the highlights are a 25-point explosion against Kansas State, a 20-point effort against TCU and, of course, the 26-point, four-rebound, five-steal highlight reel against Kansas. Ironically, the only game during that stretch in which Paige did not score in double figures was his nine-point performance against Virginia Tech in his lone start of the season.

“We started him and he didn’t play very well, so I think he’s more comfortable (off the bench), for sure,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after the Kansas win on his radio show on the Mountaineer Sports Network.

Paige, who was named the Big 12 Player of the Week on Jan. 4, is also getting comfortable, and nearly unstoppable, when he takes the ball to the basket.

“Jaysean came in here thinking he was a 3-point shooter,” Huggins said in his postgame press conference Tuesday, courtesy of the WVU athletics website. “Everybody is like, ‘You’ve got to start driving the ball. You’re our best athlete.’ He’s got great athleticism, great strength and he can absorb contact at the rim. We kept pounding at him to get it at the rim, get it at the rim, get it at the rim. I think he’s the best finisher there is in the (Big 12) or one of the best.”

The statistics don’t lie.

Through four conference games, Paige is tied for fourth in the Big 12 in scoring with Kansas’ Perry Ellis (20.0); is sixth in steals (2.0/game); 12th in offensive rebounds (2.0/game); and is 13th in field goal percentage (.479). When all games are considered, he is 12th in scoring (13.4) and field goal percentage (.507); and 13th in steals per game (1.44) and 3-point percentage (.385).

“I just try to be aggressive,” Paige said on the WVU website. “My jump shot hasn’t really been falling … so I just try and be aggressive and add different elements to my game so people can’t call me one-dimensional. I just try to get to the basket and try and play different ways so I can get myself going.”

Drake, who is in regular contact with Paige, said he was watching the WVU-Kansas game from his northside home.

“So much of being a basketball player is confidence,” he said. “He has so much confidence, because they have confidence in him. You can see how their offense kind of centers on him when he’s on the court. They give him the ball and expect him to make plays.”

To say that Paige’s personal back story is, pardon the pun, a page-turner, would be an understatement.

He grew up in Jamestown, spent time in New York City, before returning for two years to his hometown, capped by a junior campaign in which he led the Red Raiders to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four in Glens Falls. Although JHS fell to Mount Vernon in the title game in 2011, Paige had a season for the ages, averaging 25.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game on his way to earning third-team all-state, and Post-Journal and Buffalo News Player-of-the-Year honors.

“A great memory on the court was when Jaysean poured in a career-high 42 points against Lancaster at Buffalo State in the Section VI semifinals back in 2011,” said former teammate Chris Carlson, who now works in healthcare administration under MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. “I just remember thinking this guy is something special. To be that productive offensively, and against one of Jamestown’s big rivals nonetheless, was something I’d never seen in JHS history.”

Before his senior year in 2011, Paige transferred to Perry County Central in Kentucky and, upon graduation, entertained heading to Southern Mississippi before opting to play a year at the College of Southern Idaho and a year at Moberly Area (Missouri) Community College. Then it was on to West Virginia. Last year he averaged 5.6 points off the bench on a Mountaineers team that made the Sweet 16.

A role player on that team, Paige is now filling a different role this season that has opened the eyes of those who follow the college game closely.

“(ESPN analyst) Fran Fraschilla said he is one of the best guards in the Big 12,” Drake said. “… If he keeps doing this and puts up these numbers in the Big 12, who the heck knows where he could end up next year and if he’ll get a shot to play (in the NBA)? At the very least, he’ll have an opportunity to play somewhere (like) Europe. Playing professionally right out of college, that’s kind of a dream come true for guys like him.”

——

West Virginia’s 15-1 start was its best since the 1981-82 team started 24-1. Much of the Mountaineers’ success is due to its full-court pressure, which forced 22 turnovers against Kansas.

“You can see how good a defensive player he’s becoming in that system,” Drake said. “They’re very good at it. They rotate so well and (Jaysean) is really thriving.”

The frenetic pace rattled the Jayhawks earlier this week and will be on display again this afternoon when West Virginia tries to become the first team to knock off The Associated Press No. 1 and No. 2 teams in consecutive regular-season games since Kansas did it in 1989.

“We’ve got one good win and we know where we stand,” Paige told ESPN’s Rowe, “and so we’ll try and go on to Oklahoma and get a tough one on the road.”

Paige knows a thing or two about the road less traveled, but now he appears to be in the driver’s seat to a future that he first envisioned all those years ago at Washington Middle School.

— Scott Kindberg

MLB DRAFT: CONNOR GREY

Area retailers who sell Major League Baseball apparel better place an order for more Arizona Diamondbacks hats.

The entire population of Frewsburg is likely changing its Major League allegiance.

Connor Grey became one of the newest members of the National League West organization Saturday afternoon when the Diamondbacks selected the 2012 Frewsburg and recent St. Bonaventure graduate with the 13th pick of the 20th round of the MLB Draft.

Grey will fly to Oregon on Monday to join the Hillsboro Hops, a Class A short-season affiliate of the Diamondbacks who won the Northwest League last season.

The Hops begin their season June 20 when they host the Eugene Emeralds.

“I’m very excited, but relieved at the same time,” Grey said Saturday night. “I feel a lot of pressure to be moving so soon. I fly out Monday … I wasn’t expecting it to be that soon.”

The selection caps a whirlwind eight years for Grey, who reached three state Final Fours at Frewsburg before playing four years for Coach Larry Sudbrook at St. Bonaventure.

“With Connor, it was just pure potential. He has that body type that lends itself to being able to throw at a high velocity,” Frewsburg coach Jay Grann said Wednesday evening. “He was always a mentally tough kid who could pitch his way out of tough situations. He definitely prepared himself pregame very well.”

How Grey wound up with the Bonnies – and likely got noticed by Major League scouts – is a story in itself.

As a senior at Frewsburg, Grey was all set to play collegiately at Division III St. John Fisher – and actually had already attended orientation at the Rochester-area school – before Sudbrook came to a Far West Regional game in Hornell. That day, Grey and the Bears fell behind 4-1 after one inning before the right-hander finished with a two-hitter and 10 strikeouts in five innings, and the Section VI champion advanced to another state Final Four.

“I think impressing Larry Sudbrook that day made all the difference in the world for Connor,” Grann said. ”Being able to prove himself for four years at the Division I level – especially in a tough Atlantic 10 Conference – as opposed to pitching against Division III players every day, definitely improved his chances of getting to where he is now.”

At St. Bonaventure, Grey went from reliever as a freshman to non-conference starter his sophomore season.

“In all honesty, because Connor’s 6-foot tall, he’s not a guy that you project like that. He has an exceptional arm. Early on, he might’ve touched 86 or so, but every year in college he might have added a few miles per hour or so,” Sudbrook said Saturday evening. “Even though he’s only 6-foot tall he’s throwing 88 to 92 with great movement and a great breaking ball.”

During his junior season, Grey became the Bonnies No. 2 conference starter before settling in as their No. 1 ace this past season. Grey becomes the 12th St. Bonaventure player drafted during Sudbrook’s tenure and with his 20th-round selection is the fifth-highest Bonnie ever selected.

“I probably wouldn’t have projected that for him when we saw him at 17 years old, but for me to say he doesn’t have another jump or two in him would probably be disingenuous. I do think he’s a guy that can take another step,” Sudbrook said when asked if he believed Grey could advance through the minor leagues. “He’s sitting 90 to 94 mph with movement and a plus breaking ball. He’s a guy who can probably get guys out at another level.”

Now instead of getting Atlantic 10 batters out, Grey will need to focus on getting Major League draft picks out. That can be easier said than done.

“Definitely, command-wise, is probably the biggest one … honing in on each of my pitches. Velocity is probably the other one,” Grey said when asked what he needed to work on at the next level. “The scout told me I need to get more weight on me – eating is the main thing,”

Grey and his family got a head start on that Saturday night with a celebratory dinner at Pace’s Pizzeria in Jamestown. Although it was likely difficult for Connor to stay involved with the conversation in between notifications from his smartphone.

“My phone was blowing up all day, most of them were old teammates and old friends from back home,” Grey said.

You can bet all of those new Hops’ fans will continue blowing up Grey’s phone – even from three time zones away.

Another area resident also drafted Saturday was Hank Morrison of Warren, Pennsylvania, who was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 22nd round. Morrison, a graduate of Warren Area High School, is a 6-foot-2, 225-pound outfielder.

— Matt Spielman

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