AUBURN — To capture their second straight county title, the Warriors had to overcome their biggest rival and a team they took on only five days earlier.

After a slow start, they came through.

The Weedsport boys basketball team topped Port Byron 74-44 in the championship of the Cayuga County Holiday Tournament Thursday at Cayuga Community College. The victory secures the Warriors’ 13th county title in the tournament’s 45-year existence.

“We were definitely frustrated during the first half. Port Byron had a great game plan and they were really executing. They made a lot of really tough shots,” Weedsport coach Jon Sgarlata said. “We just had to regroup at halftime and pick up our energy on the defensive end. We had a great second half. It’s nice when you get out to a great start in the first half and can cruise in the second half, but it says a lot about a senior-laden team when you can have a bad first and turn it around in the second to finish the tournament.”

Riley Spingler, the tournament’s most valuable player, finished with 21 points for Weedsport while Jake O’Connor added 14. Jack Benedict and Jeff DeJohn both recorded 12 points.

Jake Stuart paced the Panthers with 14 points and Brett Saroodis finished with 11 points.

DeJohn, Saroodis, Southern Cayuga’s Conner Bennett and Union Springs’ Kevin Cunningham rounded out the all-tournament team.

The key to Spingler’s strong performance was a quick start — the senior finished with eight points in the opening quarter and hurt the Panthers with his baseline drives.

“He seemed to always be on the side of Brett Saroodis. We knew (Saroodis) had a couple fouls and we tried to get the third one on him, so he just tried to stay aggressive," Sgarlata said. "Riley really had a great tournament on both sides of the ball. He had tough defensive assignments both nights and had to play a lot of minutes. He was the most valuable player in a game where we didn’t have the greatest first half offensively. …He really filled his tank defensively on the other end.”

Not to be outdone, Saroodis knocked down two 3s in the opening quarter and finished the frame with eight to level the score at 13-13 after one quarter.

It was a minute into the second quarter when a successful free throw from Stuart gave Port Byron its first lead, 14-13, of the game. The two teams traded leads throughout the remainder of the second quarter, but Connor Hermann’s 3 from the corner was true to put the Panthers ahead 26-24 entering halftime.

“We were executing our game plan despite some foul trouble for Brett and Ryan (Gilbert),” Port Byron coach Mike Hermann said. “We were doing what we knew we had to do. I still thought we could’ve been a little more patient offensively, but with a team as physical as Weedsport they tend to speed you up. It’s hard to be strong with the ball when you’ve got guys taking up your space and playing as physical as they do.”

Spingler continued to pressure the Panther defense, beginning the third quarter with an acrobatic layup to erase Port Byron’s lead. The Panthers didn’t lead again the rest of the game — Weedsport took a 10-point advantage into the final frame after outscoring Port Byron 19-7 in the third quarter and the Warriors cruised during the fourth to capture the county title.

“A couple years ago we got upset and just kept that in the back of our heads,” Spingler said. “We used it to drive us.”

With the county tournament serving as an official end to the first half of the season, both Weedsport and Port Byron are hoping to build toward something in sectionals. Sgarlata notes a tough schedule for the 7-2 Warriors coming out of the gates.

“We just want to try and maintain momentum,” Sgarlata said. “We have a bunch of games on the other side of the league coming up. We start with LaFayette who is a much-improved team. You get through the holidays and you don’t want to hit any walls. We have a lot of league games coming up and I want to see if we can put up some distance with our league.”

That league schedule includes another meeting with the Panthers on Feb. 2. Hermann says his team is in a positive spot with five wins before New Years.

“We’re above .500 which is not a bad place to be,” Hermann said. “I think we’ve missed a couple opportunities and I think the guys know it. At this point we look forward to getting started in the new year and getting back to our league schedule, and try and get ourselves in a position to get a good sectional seed.”

CONSOLATION GAME

Union Springs 53, Southern Cayuga 41: The Wolves built on a seven-point halftime lead to beat the Section IV rival Chiefs.

Union Springs’ Kevin Cunningham led all scorers with 16 points while teammate Zach Nickerson added 13. Kyle Bailey chipped in with seven.

For Southern Cayuga, Conner Bennett scored six points in the fourth quarter and finished with 13 points. Lorenzo Raymundo registered 11 points and Collin Rejman contributed 10 points.

The Wolves led throughout the defensive battle. Southern Cayuga cut Union Springs’ lead to six with a minute left in the first half on a 3-pointer from Bennett. The Chiefs stayed within 10 points for most of the third quarter, but were limited in second-chance opportunities by the Wolves and Cunningham who controlled the boards.

Union Springs returns to action Wednesday, Jan. 3 against Spencer-Van Etten, while Southern Cayuga travels to Newfield on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

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