Birds survive a thriller against Tigers

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Sky hook: Last Thursday, Voorheesville and Cohoes played for the best record in the Colonial Council, and the Blackbirds won, 65 to 60, at home. Here, senior Joe Vogel shoots a shot for Voorheesville in the second half over Cohoes’s Kevin Napier. Vogel scored 14 points, eight of those coming in the fourth quarter.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Tipping off is Logan Hotaling (#23) of Voorheesville and Shelton Alston of Cohoes to start last Thursday’s Colonial Council game in Voorheesville. The Blackbirds won, 65 to 60, handing the Tigers its first league loss. Voorheesville (9-1, 13-1) also has only one loss in the league.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

To the net goes Voorheesville’s Noah Crawford during a game against Cohoes last Thursday. Crawford, a senior, is averaging 19.5 points per game this season, and scored 20 points in the 65-to-60 victory over the Tigers. The Birds are the top team in the Colonial Council.

VOORHEESVILLE — Class B basketball got a possible sectional final preview last Thursday when Cohoes played Voorheesville. On paper, it seemed like an exciting match-up. On the court, it was an instant classic.

Incredible basketball was on display; players totally exhausted themselves, and tempers flared.

And just think, last Thursday’s game was supposed to be played last year.

Ever since the Dec. 17 game was postponed, Voorheesville had been waiting for Cohoes to come to town.

Cohoes was 9-0 in the Colonial Council and Voorheesville was 8-1. Both teams had overall records of 12-1. Watervliet, which had beaten Voorheesville by 14 points, had lost to Cohoes by 13 points.

“I know much more about my team, and much more about their team,” Voorheesville Head Coach David Burch said after the Blackbirds’ 65-to-60 win over Cohoes last Thursday. “They knew a lot about us, too. It was a better time to play them.”

Thanks to a mid-December snowstorm, we got a blockbuster basketball game last Thursday.

Senior Dylan Hensel, who made a meaningful three-pointer in the third quarter, and ended the game with 11 points, said that, leading up, Voorheesville had been thinking about Cohoes. “We were ready,” he said. “They’re like us because they play together more than other teams.”

Burch told The Enterprise that the Blackbirds “really knew what was at stake,” which was the top spot in the Colonial Council. “They rose to the occasion,” he said of his players. “They should be so proud.”

A playoff atmosphere loomed throughout the entire contest. Both Voorheesville and Cohoes wanted to win this game very badly, and pride practically seeped out of the players’ skin.

In the fourth quarter, Birds’ center Joe Vogel ripped the ball out of A.J. Cioffi’s grip following a whistle from the referee, and Cioffi hit the floor. Before play resumed, Vogel tried to shake Cioffi’s hand in apology, but Cioffi kept ignoring the offer.

Hensel said that the game was very tense. “Both teams knew this was a fight,” he said. “Towards the end, there’s no way to describe it. We’re not friends.”

The Blackbirds played very well, and maintained a lead — although slight, no more than five points — until Brandon Laforest stole the ball for the Tigers early in the third quarter, dribbling all the way down the court, and finishing a lay-up to give Cohoes a 31-to-30 advantage. The Tigers’ lead was short lived after Vogel made a hook shot, Noah Crawford stole and dunked the ball, Hensel drained a three-pointer, and Crawford ripped the ball out of Laforest’s hands for a put-back score.

Voorheesville led, 45 to 38, at the end of the third quarter. Laforest, who finished the evening with a game-high 27 points, was frustrated, repeatedly flexing his muscles and grinding his teeth when plays didn’t go his way.

“It was a battle; both teams were ready to go,” said Burch. “We expected a battle.”

Cohoes had been relying too much on deep two-pointers and three-pointers, but started to attack more in the post, which eventually opened up some outside shots. When the Tigers mixed up its offense, it closed the gap almost immediately. With under three minutes left in regulation play, Kevin Napier scored off an offensive rebound for Cohoes, tying the game at 55 to 55, and then the teams went steal for steal for steal, leading to a lay-up by Crawford, and a three-pointer by Cohoes’ Jesse Curtin, which gave the Tigers a one-point lead.

Coach Burch knew that Cohoes wasn’t going to go away; he had watched the team play a few times. “They can score a whole bunch of points,” he said. “We were running all over the court, trying to get to their shooters.”

When the Tigers made some outside shots, it opened the inside up a little bit. Voorheesville was prepared to take care of Cohoes’ shooters, Burch said, but the Birds had to contain the glass, too.

“That’s how basketball works, you have to defend what’s working for the other team, and adjust accordingly,” added Burch. “We weren’t rebounding very well, but, man, those last four minutes, we rebounded everything.”

Vogel scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter; Cohoes had no answer for him. Burch said that Vogel’s success is linked right to Voorheesville’s achievement this season. “The better he plays,” the coach said, “the better chance we have to win.”

With less than two minutes left in regulation, Isaiah Meaux, who came off the bench for the Birds, made a three-pointer, but Shelton Alston made a basket to keep the game tied, 60 to 60. After that, possession was given to Voorheesville on a jump ball, and Logan Hotaling grabbed a huge rebound off a missed free throw by Meaux.

“It was a great team win,” Hensel said. “We fought for the whole game, and knew we had to. We’ve been waiting for this all season.”

Cohoes was forced to foul Meaux as valuable time ticked off the clock; Meaux made both of his free throws. Down by three points, Laforest dribbled along the baseline, trying to create what looked to be a difficult shot, and Vogel more or less blocked the attempt, the ball deflecting off of Laforest before going out of bounds.

The packed Voorheesville crowd cheered loudly as Laforest’s anger boiled over.

Hensel made the final two free throws of the game, and the Blackbirds celebrated the victory, high-fiving and hugging one another.

It had been Voorheesville’s fifth game in eight days, Burch said, but the team didn’t look tired. “They really sucked it up,” he said. “All year long, every time I’ve asked something of them, they’ve responded.”

The Blackbirds are 10-1 in the Colonial Council and 14-1 overall after a 47-to-37 win at Cobleskill last Friday. When it comes time for seeding for the Class B playoffs next month, Voorheesville should hold the tiebreaker over Cohoes.

For all it’s worth, last Thursday’s high-octane victory was awesome, Hensel said, but he doesn’t want all the confidence to get to Voorheesville’s head. The way the team is playing, it’ll take a very strong effort to beat the Birds.

“Sure, a team could bring us down,” Hensel said, “but, in our heads, we don’t believe that.”

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