Clash of the Champions
OESJ, Wells boys meet with state semifinal spot at stake
TROY — After both won sectional titles last Saturday, the Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville and Wells boys basketball teams will meet today at Hudson Valley Community College with a spot in the state Class D semifinals on the line.
Last Saturday, OESJ topped Germantown in the Section II Class D title game at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, while Wells edged Willsboro in the Section VII Class D title game at the Plattsburgh State Field House.
Now, both teams must refocus as they begin state tournament play.
“That isn’t easy,” OESJ coach Jason Brundage said of refocusing his team after its sectional win. “We are trying to keep them looking forward at what they could still accomplish.”
Last Saturday, both teams ended long dry spells between sectional titles.
For the Wolfpack, the title also meant a measure of redemption after they had lost in the Class D title game in 2018 and 2016.
St. Johnsville had last won the Class D title in 2007 before it merged with Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville in 2013.
“Winning the sectionals this year hopefully gets the program some of the respect we feel it deserves,” OESJ coach Jason Brundage said. “We have won a lot of games over the last five years as one of the smallest teams in the league.”
Wells earned its first Section VII title since 2002 with its narrow win over Willsboro last Saturday.
“There were some elementary and modified players at the championship game,” Wells coach Adam Clute said. “That win will stick with them for a long time. I hope it motivates them to work hard and one day win one.”
Senior Tre Zimmerman led Wells in its win over Willsboro, finishing with a game-high 25 points. Senior Shane Kennedy also hit double figures for Wells, finishing with 11 points. Byron Stuart added nine points for the Indians, scoring six of those points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning shot with six seconds to play.
Coby Stuart, who had 25 points in the Indians’ semifinal win over Schroon Lake, was hampered by foul trouble and scored just two points against Willsboro.
“We need to stay out of foul trouble and stick to our plan on defense,” Clute said. “We want to play good team defense to try and control the speed of the game. But I think in the end, it will come down to effort, my guys have to go into that game and put it all out there.”
OESJ (20-3 overall) is ranked third in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association poll, while Wells earned honorable-mention status.
“OESJ is a strong team. They have good players at each position. The way I see it, at this point in the season, every team is strong,” Clute said. “If we want to win, we know the next game we play has to be our best game. This is going to be true from here on out.”
The Indians come into the game with the seventh-longest active winning streak in the state at 16 games. Wells (17-5 overall) hasn’t lost since dropping a 61-48 decision to host Northville in the Woodward Tournament on Dec. 27.
“Wells is a winning team that takes to ball to the basket a lot,” coach Brundage said. “We will have to work hard to keep them off the boards. The key for us will be controlling the boards and defending Wells as they drive to the basket.”
The Wolfpack also are riding a double-digit win streak, having won 11 straight contests. OESJ hasn’t lost since suffering a 54-49 loss at Fonda-Fultonville on Jan. 8.
In 13 of their 20 wins this season, OESJ has held the opposition to 40 points or less.
The Wolfpack has held their foes to less than 40 points in all three of their postseason games. OESJ won the Section II Class D title with victories over eighth-seeded New Lebanon (50-38), fifth-seeded North Warren (50-32) and second-seeded Germantown (47-25).
OESJ got 20 points from Tyler Leon in its win over Germantown, while Jack Brundage had nine points. Travis LaFountain added eight points for the Wolfpack. In its semifinal win over North Warren, Jaedyn Logan-Dillenbeck finished with 15 points to lead OESJ, while Leon had 14 points and eight rebounds. LaFountain added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
OESJ has only played three games since ending its regular season Feb. 14.
“With the weather we have had this season, there have been a few times that we have had a week off,” coach Brundage said. “With that being said, we would rather play then sit around and wait.”
Wells has played just twice since wrapping up the regular season Feb. 14, posting a 58-47 victory over fourth-seeded Schroon Lake in the Section VII semifinals Feb. 27 and a 48-47 victory over second-seeded Willsboro in last Saturday’s title game.
After a long ride to Plattsburgh last Saturday, the Indians will board the bus for another long ride today, making the trip to Troy for their 16th game away from home this season.
“Between our regular season and our first sectional game we had over a week off,” Clute said. “In this time, we were able to develop a game plan and get focused. The same is true for this game. The guys are competing in practice everyday and that will help when we compete Saturday.”
The teams share four common foes in Fort Plain, Galway, Middleburgh and Northville.
OESJ went 5-0 against those teams this season, while Wells went just 1-5. The Wolfpack won those games by an average 58.4-39.4, while the Indians lost by a 58.5-46.8 margin.
“My guys seem to stay focused. They are committed to the team and everyday they step up and play hard in practice,” Clute said. “They are excited about getting the sectional championship, but they are more excited about the opportunity to play at the state level.”
The winner of today’s will face either Section VI champion Panama or Section V champion Belfast in the state semifinals at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena on March 16 at 12:45 p.m. Belfast (18-6) is ranked seventh in the latest state poll, while Panama (17-6) is ranked 13th. Belfast and Panama will meet in their regional contest today at Greece Athena High School in Rochester at 6:30 p.m.
The Class D state championship game is set for March 17 at 2 p.m.
OESJ vs. WELLS
— What: New York State Class D Regionals
— When: Today, 2:45 p.m.
— Where: Hudson Valley Community College, Troy
— The matchup: Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville (20-3) vs. Wells (17-5)
— What’s at stake: The winner advances to the semifinals of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D Tournament. They will face either Section VI champion Panama or Section V champion Belfast at Floyd L. Maines Memorial Veterans Arena in Binghamton on March 16 at 12:45 p.m.