By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 12, 2009
It took the Hudson Tigers just 32 minutes to tear down what the Pittsford Wildcats spent nearly four months building.
After losing to the Wildcats by 22 points Friday night the district-hosting Tigers (8-13) didn’t trail by more than nine points Wednesday and their intense defense was just enough to keep Pittsford uncomfortable and timely shooting eventually helped break the Wildcats 20-0 season, 56-52.
“We just wanted to return the favor for what they did to us last time and we just had great momentum to do that and we wanted to get to the finals,” Hudson junior forward Sam Klinger said, after scoring seven points in the win.
For Pittsford it appeared senior forward Corey Gamble might set the table, as he went off for three 3-pointers and 16 points in the first half, and junior forward Garet Lee might serve the Tigers a defeat, as he gathered steam and scored nine points in the third quarter alone. But Gamble didn’t score a single point in the second half, Lee made just six of 14 free throws and a 29-22 halftime lead didn’t stand the test of time.
An emotional Mike Burger said funny things sometimes happen in single elimination tournaments and he couldn’t fault his kids effort, only praise Hudson’s.
“They made a lot of shots, they played hard, they wanted it just as bad as we did and they just made a few more plays than we did. Friday was a different night. That’s the quirky thing about basketball…March Madness, one and done,” Pittsford’s head coach said.
He said his players certainly felt the pressure to succeed on the bigger stage and that may have played into the final outcome.
“The pressure was there to be successful, they knew the magnitude of the game, they knew what was at risk and maybe that got to them a little bit. But you’ve got to give credit to Hudson for making the plays,” he said.
Nathan Smith, Luke Milligan and Brandon Hephner all led Hudson with eight points, but it was the same team mind-set on defense that truly made a difference.
Burger said the Tigers are “big and strong” and he thought Klinger affected quite a few Wildcat shots. Klinger had help from Hephner among others down low and he said everything went according to plan.
“We just wanted to be great defenders and we wanted to shut down Lee and basically their 3-point stuff and make them go low,” he said.
Lee had only three points at the half ad the Wildcats were piggy-backing onto Gamble’s back, much to the delight of Pittsford fans who roared loudly with every long-range attempt from the lanky senior.
He not only buried three triples in the first half, he was also fouled on two 3-point attempts and he was far and away the game’s most effective offensive player.
As Klinger said though, Hudson coach Lance Horwath switched his concern from interior defense to perimeter coverage at the half.
“We talked about never leaving your man if you can and making sure you got back on time and we just played tough in-your-shorts man-to-man ‘D’ and it worked out,” he said.
Pittsford led 32-24 early in the second half thanks to several strong drives from Lee and some errant long-range shooting from Hudson.
Nonetheless Luke Milligan finally drilled a 3-pointer with 1:05 left in the third period and a 7-2 run to end the quarter put the Tigers within 40-41.
Josh Shephard made one of the biggest plays of the contest on Hudson’s first possession of the fourth quarter when he made a long 3-pointer to give his team their first lead all night.
Pittsford guard Seth Weber hit a triple of his own to get the Wildcats within one with 4:32, but a 51-46 deficit with 2:20 remaining proved too much to overcome. The Wildcats went just 10-for-20 from the charity stripe in the contest and several Clark Pelham 3-pointers rimmed out in the final minutes.
Pelham was held to just three points Wednesday, as was Wes Smith. Zac Vanlerberg tallied four.
Despite an earlier finish to the season than he hoped for, Burger said he will never forget the ride this group of guys took him on and their character would be defined as much by the first-round loss as all their victories.
“You could play 1,000 games like tonight and lose a lot and win a lot and you learn so much about yourself, and that’s what sports is about. You know you feel so alive and so wonderful during the game, the fight and just watching the guys play and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said. “They had a ton of fight tonight, they didn’t quit and I think you learn a lot your character in adversity and these guys, they’ll be alright.”
Hudson’s gift for taking down the Wildcats is a finals date on Friday with 18-4 Hanover-Horton who beat Manchester 56-40 Wednesday.
“We’re going to have to play some real tough ‘D’ because defense wins games mostly and we have to find out who there best player is and shut them down.” Klinger said.
Tip-off for that game is set for 7 p.m.