When Middle Early College needed some of the biggest shots in the game, the smallest player on the court came through.
Sophomore Joseph Staton, all 5-foot-6 of him, had four three-pointers for 12 of his 13 points as the Kats won the overall Section VI Class C championship with a 50-47 victory over Randolph.
“He made some huge shots,” said Middle Early College coach Randy Rich. “He’s a shot maker. He shoots 200 to 400 shots every day.”
An estimated 800 watched Middle Early College rally from a 18-7 first-quarter deficit with excellent man-to-man defense and balanced, patient, smart offense that resulted in Staton’s outside shooting complementing three other double-figure scorers.
“My team found me in the right places, and they got me the shots that I like to take, so I just had to knock them down,” said Staton. “It feels real good because I know my team counts on me a lot and my coach does too, so I’m just coming out here and trying to play my game.”
Senior Tarron Scott also had 13 points for the Kats, while senior guard Kevin Briggs had 12 and senior forward Bri’an Brown 11 to account for all but one (a free throw by senior Elijah Mingo) of Middle Early College’s points.
The Kats (17-5) will return to Buffalo State at 1:45 p.m. Saturday for the Far West Regionals, where they will take on the Section V (Rochester area) champion for the right to go to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four next weekend in Glens Falls. Perry (21-1) and Clyde-Savannah (21-0) will play for the Section V Class C championship at 7 tonight at Penfield High.
“We go out every year thinking we’re going to win states and trying to win the states, and even if you don’t have that kind of team, you go out and you give them that kind of confidence,” said Rich, whose 2010 Kats team won the state title. “And they come back when they’re down 18-7. It wasn’t that big of a deal for them to come back, it seemed to me. I didn’t have to raise my voice. They respond well.”
With Middle Early College starting the game in a zone defense that has been very successful during its Yale Cup I and Class C-1 championship season, C-2 champ Randolph (15-7) showed how good of a three-point shooting team it is.
Randolph hit four threes (and just one two-point field goal, along with four free throws) in the first quarter for its 18-7 lead. Junior guard Bryce Morrison, who led Randolph with 20 points, had two of the threes.
“Fortunately we have different teams that we put in to do two different things, and we have a man-to-man package – almost like football and those guys played a lot today,” said Rich, lauding the work of seniors Mingo, Briggs, Brown, Brandon Jefferson and Isaiah Dickinson as well as Staton. “Eli Mingo played great defense on the pick-and-roll tonight, he nullified it, he made it look like it’s easy to defend and it’s not.”
The man-to-man defense helped Middle College steadily cut into Randolph’s lead, bringing it to 25-21 at halftime, and then the Kats got a big boost from Staton. The guard had two three-pointers during the 16-7 quarter, and backcourt mate Briggs swished a three at the buzzer that gave the Kats a 37-32 lead.
Staton’s shooting also enabled the Kats to stretch out Randolph’s zone, with Brown penetrating for baskets or excellent passing leading to several Scott layups.
Scott had six points in the fourth, in which Middle College took an 11-point lead (45-34) on Staton’s fourth three. The Kats missed six straight free throws at one point to help Randolph come back. Randolph hit two free throws with 0.9 left to account for the three-point final margin.