AUBURN — It took four extra minutes, but the Port Byron boys basketball team found a way.

The Panthers opened up the 45th Cayuga County Holiday Basketball Tournament with a 72-67 overtime victory over Union Springs Wednesday at Cayuga Community College. With the win, the Panthers move on to the championship game where they’ll shoot for their second county title in three years.

“That was our second (overtime) this year. These guys don’t back down,” Port Byron coach Mike Hermann said. “I was pleased that we gutted that out. We led that game almost throughout. … Union Springs had a great run to start the third quarter and we couldn’t find a way to stop them. Then we came back and it was pretty back-and-forth. Usually the team that has the momentum going into overtime like Springs did a lot of times comes out on top. We didn’t go away and found a way to win.”

Brett Saroodis led the Panthers with 29 points, including seven 3s, while Ryan Gilbert added 16 points. Jake Stuart, who was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line, and Jay Snyder both added nine points.

Union Springs’ leader was Nick Valentino with 20 points, with 19 of those coming in the second half. Connor DeChick (four 3s) scored 14, Kevin Cunningham finished with 12 and Kyle Bailey finished with 11.

The Panthers led by seven points at halftime but had to withstand a charge by the Wolves early in the second half. Union Springs started the third quarter on a 13-0 run to nab a six-point lead, but Port Byron bounced back in the final four minutes of the frame to take a 51-47 advantage heading to the fourth.

A three-point play from Valentino with 2:40 left was answered on a layup conversion and foul from Stuart at the other end seconds later. The foul on Union Springs cut deep — DeChick, the Wolves’ top shooter from distance, fouled out.

Port Byron held possession in the final seconds with the game tied at 65, but a deep try from Saroodis caught the rim to force overtime.

The senior didn’t hesitate after his miss, draining his lone try from distance in the extra session. He later added two free throws and finished with five of the Panthers’ seven points in overtime.

“He’s definitely one of those kids where you’re like, ‘No, no, no … yes!’ He knows when he takes a bad one but sometimes that’s a heat check for him,” Hermann said. “We let him go because sometimes he’ll get in that streak where he’ll hit several in a row. He wants those shots and there’s a reason why he wanted that late shot and the first shot in overtime. He doesn’t back down and neither does anybody else.”

Down by three with 25 seconds remaining the Wolves had two attempts from distance to even the score but both were wide. 

After falling in the opening round a year ago, the Panthers are aiming for their second title in three years and third since 2011. They’ll face either defending county champion Weedsport or Southern Cayuga at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re going to enjoy being in the championship game,” Hermann said. “It’s always one of your goals is to get to the championship game and then win it. We’re going to have our hands full no matter who we play.”

Sports writer Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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Sports Reporter