MAYFIELD - There will no co-champions in the Western Athletic Conference North this season.
After finishing in a dead-heat with Fort Plain last year, the Canajoharie Cougars rallied in the final minute Friday to defeat upset-minded Mayfield 46-41 to win the WAC North title outright.
"I am really proud of my guys." Canajoharie coach Phil Schoff said. "All the hard work and all the things they have wanted came together for them tonight."
Canajoharie’s Zach Folts goes up for a shot as Mayfield’s Jake Palmer (10) and Lucas VanNostrand as Canajoharie’s Josh Gonzalez (44), looks on during Friday’s Western Athletic Conference North boys basketball game at Mayfield Jr./Sr. High School. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
Both teams brought their "A" games to the Mayfield court for 32 minutes of high-intensity basketball.
Canajoharie (8-1 WAC) won the opening tip bout could not capitalize on its first possession.
Josh Gallup got the Panthers off to a quick start by hitting a 3-pointer on Mayfield's first possession.
Lucas VanNostrand laid in a pass from Ryan Hennessy to give the Panthers five points before Zach Folts scored on a putback for the Cougars' first points, just over two minutes into the game.
Hennessy and Lucas VanNostrand stepped up to lead Mayfield on a 9-5 run to take a 14-7 lead at the end of the opening period.
The Cougars pressed Mayfield into three turnovers early in the second period and trimmed the Panthers lead to one, 17-16 with 3:50 left in the opening half.
The Panthers regrouped with Dylan Toscano finishing off a fast break and Hennessy adding a basket and a pair of free throws to build Mayfield's lead back to seven, 23-16.
Zachary Bowerman converted on three free throws and Josh Gonzalez added a basket for the Cougars in the closing minutes, while the Panthers got four free-throws from VanNostrand to carry a 27-21 lead into the locker room at the half.
Canajoharie made a run at the Panthers early in the third quarter.
Kevin Shannon hit a 3-pointer and a basket early in the period to cut the lead to 27-26 before VanNostrand hit for Mayfield.
Folts tied the game at 29 with his three-point play with 4:22 left in the third period.
Toscano and Gallup connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to again give the Panthers some operating room and a 35-29 lead.
Karl Gustafson and Bowerman combined for four free throws in the closing minute, while the Panthers got another basket from VanNostrand to take a 37-33 lead into the final eight minutes of play.
The Cougars quickly tied the game at 37 on baskets from Gonzalez and Gustafson.
The Panthers did not allow the Cougars to take the lead until the final minute of play when Gonzalez hit a field goal for a 43-41 lead with 51 seconds left on the clock.
The Panthers developed plays, but only got one look at the basket as Gonzalez and Shannon grabbed key defensive rebounds.
Canajoharie closed out the victory from the free-throw line, converting on 3 of 4 attempts in the final seconds for the 46-41 win to capture the WAC North championship.
"We played probably one of the best games we played all year outside of our wins over Mekeel Christian and Fort Plain," Mayfield coach Brian VanNostrand said. "I am definiately proud of all of them. The guys fought right to the end. It was a couple of missed shots here and there. We had one shot go in and bounce back out. We didn't do a good job of keeping our composure at the end and that comes with time and everything. The tough part was we got a couple kids in foul trouble and that's where they got us. They played a great game too. It was one heck of a basketball game."
Schoff described his team's reaction in the locker room after the game.
"First came a sigh of relief and then came jubilation," he said. "The guys can start applying real life lessons from basketball in a pressure situation; where there seems like there is no way out there is always a possibility. Ever since the beginning of the year, at the first practice, there are a few things I have been telling the team and one of them is you have to out practice the pace of the game. The second thing is it is not how you start. Nobody remembers how great teams started, it is how they finish."
The closeness of the game also was reflected in the rebounds as both teams recorded 31 rebounds, while Canajoharie had 12 turnovers and the Panthers had 13.
Gonzalez led the Cougars with his double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds. Shannon and Folts added nine points apiece to the Canajoharie scoring.
"I think Gonzo [Gonzalez] changed the complexion of the ball game," Schoff said. "There were a couple of times where we would miss a shot and couldn't finish the play off because they got the rebound. We worked our butts off for the full 35 seconds and could not make the shot and then they would get the rebound. It was frustrating. Finally Gonzo and a couple of our big guys really started hammering the boards and changed the complexion of the ball game from there on out."
VanNostrand finished with a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds to go with four blocked shots for the Panthers, while Hennessy had 13 points and Toscano had a pair of 3-pointers en route to his 10-point performance.
Mayfield has three games remaining in the regular season, while the Cougars have a pair of home games against Galway and St. Johnsville before setting their sights on the WAC Cup title and the Class C sectionals.
"We are not ready to relax yet," Schoff said. "We won't be ready to relax until it is all over. The pressure will always be on. We have to play every game like it has meaning."
With Mekeel Christian, Northville and Saratoga Catholic left on the schedule, the Panthers still have a shot at making the WAC Cup tournament.
"I think we have an outside chance and that is our next goal," Coach VanNostrand said. "I think we may be fourth now but that is our goal to hopefully make it up there. We have three key games coming up."
Canajoharie 46, Mayfield 41
Canajoharie7 14 12 13 - 46
Mayfield14 13 10 4 - 41
Bowerman 0-5-5, Folts 3-3-9, Gonzalez 5-1-11, Gustafson 1-2-4, Ouderkirk 1-0-2, Shannon 3-1-9, Veeder 2-2-6. Totals: 15-14-46.
Gallup 2-0-6, Hennessy 3-6-13, Toscano 3-2-10, L. VanNostrand 4-4-12. Totals: 12-12-41.
3-point goals: Canajoharie 2 (Shannon 2); Mayfield 5 (Gallup 2, Toscano 2, Hennessy).