SACKETS HARBOR — Ethan Shi and his Sackets Harbor boys basketball teammates survived another close call Wednesday, but as a result are headed to a sectional semifinal.
Sparked by Shi, a sophomore, and by junior Austin Griner, the Patriots built a sizable lead in both the first half and into the third quarter, but then had to hold off a determined Oriskany team to prevail, 53-50, in a Section 3 Class D quarterfinal.
“It feels great,” Shi said. “I think we played pretty well for the first half and I think we could have played better in the second half, but it’s good to come away with the win.”
Griner scored 21 points and Shi contributed a career-high 17 points to pace top-seeded Sackets Harbor (21-1).
“We were doing good in the first three quarters, but then we kind of let our guard down with our defense,” Griner said. “We just got down a little bit, but we hung in there. We’ll get back to practice before Saturday and get back to work.”
After outlasting New York Mills, 70-68, in a first-round game Saturday, the Patriots led by as many as 14 points against eighth-seeded Oriskany in the first half, which they expanded to an 18-point edge in the third quarter.
But the Redskins responded with a 14-1 surge to close the third quarter to pull within 45-40.
“We did a lot of good things in the first half,” Sackets Harbor coach Jeff Robbins said. “But for the second game in a row we got up by double figures and I thought we let down defensively. And when they hit a couple shots, we played tentative — and we can’t do that. If we do that in our next game, our season’s going to be over.”
Ethan Tracy scored back-to-back baskets to open the fourth quarter to boost Sackets Harbor to a 49-42 edge, but it scored only four points the rest of the way. Griner made a pair of free throws and Marcus Castine followed with a steal and made a layup with 2:15 remaining for a 53-48 lead.
Oriskany pulled to within 53-50 on Anthony Kernan’s running jump shot with 1:42 to play, but got no closer. Sackets Harbor also missed a pair of free throws in the final minute of play.
“It got a little tight,” Shi said. “And I feel like we could have played better defense and could have like talked more and just played better at the end.”
Shi connected on five 3-pointers, including three in the first quarter, as the Patriots surged to a 13-4 early lead.
“I’m just shooting the ball with confidence and when I can do that, I can help the team,” Shi said.
“Ethan stepped up big and hit some huge shots,” Robbins said of Shi. “Ethan’s a gamer, he’s done that, even in his freshman year he hit some big shots for us.”
Griner scored 15 of his points in the first half, including nine in the second quarter, when he scored seven consecutive points. He made all eight of his free-throw attempts before halftime and finished 11 of 12 on the foul line overall.
Castine, a sophomore, paced the Patriots on the boards with nine rebounds, while Griner totaled eight rebounds and Tracy, also a sophomore, hauled in seven.
“I know any of those guys can produce for us, Jake (Peters) struggled to shoot tonight, but he can step up there and knock down shots,” Robbins said. “Marcus, we’ve got to get him to be more aggressive offensively, he’s not even taking shots, he’s not involved defensively as we need him to be. So we can get better there, we can get more production from everybody.”
Now the only remaining Frontier League boys basketball team in the postseason, Sackets Harbor advances to face third-seeded West Canada Valley (16-6) in a sectional semifinal at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse.
“It feels great, it feels like this will be a great experience and we’re going to work hard in practice and try and get a win there,” Shi said.
“We’ve got some young players, but I told them, ‘we can’t play like this,’” Robbins said of his team’s effort in the second half. “They’ve got to play like they’re a year older.”
Last year, as the No. 2 seed, the Patriots were edged on their home court by the Town of Webb, 55-54, in a first-round game. This time, they fended off the opposition to advance.
“I’ve been varsity since eighth grade,” Shi said. “I think we took last year as a chip on our shoulder to come back this year and now we’re the top dog. So we’re just taking it game by game.”
“We’re still confident,” Griner said. “We’ll just get back to practice for the rest of the week and work hard.”
Sackets Harbor also entered the week ranked No. 4 in the state in Class B, with Harrisville of Section 10 ranked third. The Patriots’ only loss was to Harrisville on Dec. 29.
“At this time of the year, all you have to do is win,” Robbins said. “So if we go out and play great on Saturday, nobody’s going to remember that we struggled to win the first two games, it’s about winning within the moment.”
Kernan scored 14 points and Nick Hays and Jack Tamburino each contributed 11 points for Oriskany (13-9), which defeated ninth-seeded Copenhagen, 51-44, to reach the quarterfinal round.
“I wasn’t too happy,” Robbins said. “Nothing to take away from Oriskany or New York Mills, they both played well, they both shot well. But I thought we played not to lose in the second half late, especially in the fourth quarter, we can’t do that. But to our kids’ credit, we made just enough plays defensively. But you’ve got to go out there and seize the moment, right now the moment was a little too big for us and we’ve got to change our mindset.”
Sackets Harbor won its 14th straight game and will play in a sectional semifinal for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
“It’s cool, this is something we’ve really worked for and we want to keep it going,” Griner said.
Robbins added: “We haven’t been to the semis in like six years, so it’s good to be back there. I went through the records, and like from 1997 I think like until 2017, I think we made at the semis in like 22 out of 25 years. So I think we’re kind of back where I feel we kind of belong. We want to make this a yearly trip and I don’t want us to go down there and be mesmerized, we’ve played in big games in big games before.
“So this group has it and we can’t go in there scared.”
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