GLENS FALLS - After a long season, the Canajoharie Cougars are two wins away from a Section II Class C championship.
Of course, there are three other teams that are standing in their way as the semifinal round of the sectional tournament opens tonight at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
In Phil Schoff's first year as coach, the Cougars have battled through the Western Athletic Conference North Division and had far more success than failure as they won the division and finished second in the WAC Cup.
Canajoharie’s Zach Bowerman, center, drives to the basket during Saturday’s Section II Class C quarterfinal game against Stillwater at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)
Now, they are looking for more as they face the top-seeded Hoosic Valley Indians.
"They're very talented," Schoff said. "They're big, strong and well-coached. They have a great shooter in [John Rooney] and a great inside kid."
Rooney has been the Indians' leading scorer all year with a team-high 363 points, which includes 38 3-point baskets. About 120 points behind him is center Ethan Ross-Hixson, who gets the points under the basket. He has scored 240 points.
- What: Section II Class C Semifinals
- When: Today, 8 p.m.
- Where: Glens Falls Civic Center
- The matchup: No. 4 Canajoharie (17-3) vs. No. 1 Hoosic Valley (18-2)
- What's at stake: The winner advances to
Saturday's Section II Class C championship game at the Glens Falls Civic Center
at 3:45 p.m. against the winner of the other
semifinal game between No. 3 Greenwich (15-5) and No. 2 Lake George (18-2).
Schoff said he is mostly concerned about the Indians' ability to take the ball inside with Ross-Hixson and then kick it back out to Rooney, but he and his coaches have spent the last several practices adjusting the Cougars' zone defense to stop the Indians.
"We're going to pack in the 2-3 zone and then close out on Rooney when the ball gets kicked back out to him," Schoff said.
The Cougars also have several key weapons of their own. Sophomore center Josh Gonzalez has come on lately to become the Cougars' leading scorer on the inside.
"I can [see his improvement] by a lot of the things that are unseen," Schoff said. "What people see is the fruit of the work he puts in. People don't see a lot of the hours he puts in. Josh comes in early and stays late at practice. He does all the extra stuff and has paid his dues since he was a freshman."
Dillan Veeder has provided a spark from outside with 18 3-point baskets, while Shannon has knocked down a team-high 25 3-pointers and also has gone inside.
The Indians also have a height advantage over the Cougars, but Schoff hopes Canajoharie can utilize its speed.
"I think the speed will work for us," Schoff said. "Rensselaer was very quick and liked to push the ball. I think that was an area that gave Hoosic Valley trouble."
Tonight's game is expected to be a battle and Schoff said he expects his team to draw on its experience from playing in the Western Athletic Conference North, where the Cougars have rarely had an easy night as nine of their 12 division games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
Their only losses to a Class C team has been to fellow Class C semifinalist Greenwich and WAC rival Fort Plain on Dec. 7.
Since then, the Cougars hadn't lost for two months until they were routed by Mekeel Christian Academy in the WAC Cup title game.
"I think it was the best thing for us," Schoff said. "Every loss that we've had has been the best thing for us. We can trust what we've been doing. It's really a testament to the kids about how they thrive under pressure. We have this ability to not let a loss become a breakdown and it becomes a breakthrough."
Since losing to Mekeel, the Cougars have posted a win over Voorheesville on their own floor and have beaten No. 12 Stillwater at Hudson Valley Community College in the quarterfinals.
Schoff is not concerned about the Cougars being in awe of the Civic Center when they walk in the door. Those fears were allayed during the win over Stillwater at Hudson Valley Community College, a larger arena than the Cougars' Den.
The winner will play for the championship at 3:45 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the other semifinal between No. 3 Greenwich and No. 2 Lake George.
"Going into [today], I trust my guys that they're not going to be in awe and not star struck and they're going to thoroughly enjoy it," Schoff said. "That's a memory that will last forever."