JOHNSTOWN - The Fulton-Montgomery Community College basketball teams will continue their quest for a regional championship today in the opening round of the Region III Division III tournament.
The Raiders (15-11 overall, 13-11 region) received the fifth seed and open play in the quarterfinals against fourth-seeded Mohawk Valley (19-10 overall, 17-7 region) at 6 p.m. today at the State University of New York at Delhi.
The Lady Raiders (17-7 overall, 15-7 region) received the fourth seed and will open quarterfinal play at 3 p.m. today against No. 4 Finger Lakes Community College (18-12 overall, 16-8 region) at Mohawk Valley Community College.
Fulton-Montgomery’s Aaron Morton (34) goes up for a shot over Mohawk Valley’s Lazaro Martinez (5) during Saturday’s game at FMCC. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Mohawk Valley’s Shaniece Brown (1) defends Fulton-Montgomery’s Grace Rutagenwa (10) during Saturday’s game at FMCC. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
The men built momentum heading into the tournament with a big 78-71 win over Mohawk Valley last Saturday.
"Beating Mohawk Valley last Saturday was a huge win for our team," FMCC coach Ed Collar said. "If we had lost, we would have dropped all the way to the ninth seed and would have had to play a subregional game on the road at Onondaga on Tuesday. The win gave us a five seed and an automatic trip to regionals. Also, we will play Mohawk Valley again [today], so hopefully beating them already will give us a mental edge and the confidence we need to beat them again and move on in regionals. The win also allowed us more time to prepare for regionals."
Today's game marks the second-straight No. 5 seed in the Region III Division III tournament for the Raiders, who are making their third trip to the tournament under Collar's leadership. FMCC advanced to the semifinal round in 2012 and won the tournament championship in 1996, 2000 and 2007.
The Raiders posted a 7-6 record in the first half of the season and opened the second half of the season with a five-game winning streak.
"We played 10 games in 20 days this semester, which included a five-game winning streak, followed by a four-game losing streak," Collar said. "Both streaks were the result of mental focus and the ability to play with energy. We proved to ourselves during the winning streak that we could be one of the best teams in the region when we are focused. We also learned how difficult it is to succeed when we are not focused. I think we got that mental edge back against Mohawk Valley and, hopefully, it carries into a three-game winning streak over the weekend and a regional title."
While getting contributions from the entire lineup, the Raiders scoring is led by third-team all-region all-star Aaron Morton's 16 points-per-game average.
"The key to our success has been that we have been getting contributions from many different players every game," Collar said. "Hopefully, we have learned from our struggles, as much as we have learned from our success."
The winner of today's game will play the winner between No. 8 Finger Lakes and No. 1 Herkimer County Community College at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Lady Raiders have made adjustments on the run in the second half of the season after posting an 11-1 record before the winter recess with the lone loss coming against nationally ranked Mohawk Valley Community College.
FM, ranked fifth in the nation in the first-half polls, was dealt a blow when leading scorer Takima Lucky was unable to return for the winter term and missed the second half of the season.
However, the Lady Raiders received a balanced team performance on the floor as Kassandra Flowers, Cheryl Osbourne and Sherice Gayle were among players stepping up to fill the void.
"Everyone has been stepping up and playing their roles," Lady Raiders coach Kevin Jones said. "Unfortunately, Cheryl Osbourne blew out her knee in our game against Mohawk Valley and is done for the year."
Flowers, a first-team all-region all-star, has stepped into the roll of leading scorer with strong performances, including hitting a school-record 10 3-pointers in a 32-point performance against Clinton Community College.
The Lady Raiders defeated their quarterfinal opponent Finger Lakes, 65-51, earlier this season.
"I think we are playing pretty well right now, but it is the time of year when it can be one-and-done," Jones said. "Anything can happen in the tournament, but I think we match up well against Finger Lakes."
The winner of today's game will play the victor of the quarterfinal game between No. 8 Tompkins-Courtland Community College and top-seeded Mohawk Valley at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The championship games will be played Sunday at the respective tournament sites.