ROCHESTER — As the basketball saying goes, teams that live by the three can die by the three.
That’s what happened to Olean on Saturday evening, and it would be hard to imagine a more sudden, more stunning, more devastating death.
Olean, ranked first in the state in Class B with a lineup of junior standouts who were hungry to surpass last season’s state semifinal appearance, were stunned at the buzzer by a player who didn’t even have his name on the back of his jersey.
Batavia sophomore JV callup Jeff Redband released a three-pointer with a last sliver of a second left to give the Blue Devils a 63-62 victory in Saturday’s Far West Regionals at Blue Cross Arena.
It will be Batavia, and not Olean, as many expected, which will head down the Thruway to next weekend’s final four in Glens Falls. The Blue Devils (18-3), ranked ninth in the state poll, will face Section II (Albany area) winner Watervliet at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals.
“It’s devastating,” said Olean coach Jeff Anastasia, whose team was also No. 1 in The News small school poll all season. “It comes down to one lucky shot … the kids played their hearts out. I think that Batavia will do well next weekend, I think.”
Most of the estimated 1,200 on hand likely thought Olean (21-2) appeared to have claimed the game in the final moments. The Huskies had taken the lead and seemed to have the upper hand on each subsequent play — that is, until the buzzer sounded.
With the score tied at 60 and Batavia with the ball with less than 35 second to play, junior Wil Bathurst (18 points, four assists) stole a pass in the Olean end and went in for a layup to give Olean a 62-60 lead with about 25 seconds left. Batavia came back down, and senior Patrick Scholla similarly intercepted a pass, diving ahead to tip it deep into Batavia’s end. Redband hustled back to track it down, and the Blue Devils called timeout with 6.5 seconds left and having to go the length of the court.
Justin Washington (16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists), a 6-foot-4 senior whose strong dribble got him to the basket throughout the game, sped upcourt, but he lost the ball when Scholla came to defend. In a scramble, the ball found Batavia top scorer Jalen Smith (the senior had 24 points and five threes) on the left side, and he was off-balance as he desperately batted it to Redband in the corner.
“I told him go right to the rim,” Batavia coach Buddy Brasky said of Washington. “I said if they stop you, I knew they wouldn’t leave Jalen. I said Jeff, you’re going to go in that corner and you’re going to hit the shot to win the game. Now, I didn’t plan on the stumble, and the little push pass, and the little ball-fake leaner, but we’ll take it.”
Even once the ball got to Redband, things didn’t exactly go smoothly.
“I got the ball and I was trying to rush it because I knew time was running down, so I fumbled it,” he said. “Then I was able to get control … and I just threw it up.”
Batavia’s hero, unlike his teammates, didn’t have the name printed in royal blue on the back of his white jersey, and his name was hand-written onto rosters distributed for the game. Redband played most of the season on JV, but he contributed 11 points and was to be an option on the final play.
“I’ve been playing JV all year … I never expected this,” he said. “I couldn’t even believe it. A regional final game, and I made the winning shot? I just started jumping up and down and my teammates mobbed me.”
In a finish that was vintage March Madness, Batavia piled on at midcourt while Olean players stopped in their tracks and fell to the floor. Anastasia, known for his consistently calm presence in all games, realized what had just happened, turned to walk back towards his bench and grimaced as he pumped a fist at the air in frustration.
Olean seemed to take control of a well-played, competitive contest between two longtime powers in their respective sections when senior reserves Evan Ryan (one) and Max Portlow (two) hit three-pointers in the latter part of a 21-10 third quarter for Olean that gave the Huskies a 50-43 lead. But Olean’s threes stopped going in in the fourth (5 of 11 in first half, 10 of 24 for the game, no threes in the fourth) and Batavia scored the first six points of the quarter to draw within one and set up a close battle the rest of the way.
Junior 6-7 center Sam Eckstrom had 10 of his 12 points in the first half while classmate Nick Schmidt was 4 of 10 from the field, all from three-point range, for 12 points.
“Sometimes it is easier if you lose by 10,” Anastasia said about 15 minutes after the game. “I’m kind of numb right now myself because it just still hasn’t hit me that we lost that game.”