GLENS FALLS — The last time Olean played in the Glens Falls Civic Center, it was a gloomy day for basketball fans in Olean. St. Bonaventure lost in the NCAA Tournament before Olean High fell in the semifinals of the state Class B tournament.
It was the complete opposite on Friday evening.
Hours after Bonaventure recorded a stirring win over Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, Olean High came through with a fantastic performance as it relished its return to the mecca of New York State high school basketball.
With leading scorer Wil Bathurst hampered by foul trouble, senior center Sam Eckstrom dominated inside with 31 points while senior guard Nick Schmidt – son of St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt – hit 7 of 9 three-pointers in a 25-point game as Olean overcame hot-shooting Woodlands, 71-63, before an estimated 2,500.
“It feels like when we play well, they play well or when we play bad, they play bad,” said Schmidt of his squad – and his father’s team. “It’s good that we both won and hopefully we both keep moving on.”
The Mr. Inside-Mr. Outside combination of 6-foot-7 Eckstrom and 6-foot Schmidt was all the more important because Bathurst (10 points) spent time on the bench.
“They did a great job,” Olean coach Jeff Anastasia said. “Nick was on fire. He did a phenomenal job and the guys did a great job finding him, I thought. Sam was just a force inside. They could not stop him. They did not have an answer for him all night. I was really proud. He played a great game.”
Olean, ranked third in the New York State Sportswriters Association Class B poll, will play for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B championship at 9 tonight against the state’s top-ranked team, undefeated Westhill (24-0) of Section III (Syracuse area). Tonight’s winner will advance to the Federation Tournament of Champions next weekend in Albany.
Olean, with its five starting seniors, displayed playmaking and clutch shotmaking that was forged by its independent schedule, one it embarked on to help prepare it for a run at a state championship.
Two years ago, all were sophomores on a team that lost its semifinal to eventual champion Bishop Ludden of Syracuse, hours after St. Bonaventure fell to Florida State in the first-round of the NCAAs. Last year’s expected return to Glens Falls for the Huskies was stunningly nixed by a buzzer-beater loss to Batavia in the Far West Regionals.
Olean took control of the game with a 22-13 third that ended with a Bathurst-to-Eckstrom layup to give it a 54-49 lead heading to the fourth. Woodlands stayed within two possessions for much of the fourth, and came within 66-63 with 1:09 left when Olean beat Woodlands’ pressure and went inside to Eckstrom for a nice pivot and finish. Eckstrom added a big rebound and two free throws.