DRYDEN — On a day where easy layups weren't falling, errant passes were frequent and knock-down, drag-out basketball was a constant, the Blue Devils clamped down on defense to secure another sectional title.
Moravia overcame a four-point deficit entering the fourth quarter and outscored Elmira Notre Dame 15-5 over the final eight minutes. While it wasn't the prettiest night on the offensive end, the Blue Devils did enough to defeat the Crusaders, 39-33, Saturday in the Section IV, Class C championship at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
The victory clinches back-to-back section titles and the program's fifth since 2010.
"It feels great, although it didn't feel so good during the game," Moravia coach Todd Mulvaney said. "Our defense played great, but I was waiting for our offense to get in a rhythm and once we got some scoring going I knew we'd muster some stops. Luckily our seniors made big plays at the right time and we found a way to win."
Gabe Short finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Blue Devils, while Jordan Crossgrove added 13 points and dished out five assists. Carter Flick chipped in with six points, and Parker Dickenson snatched eight rebounds to go with three assists and two steals.
Gary Raupers notched 12 points for Elmira Notre Dame.
Short, who was matched up with the Crusaders' Ben Cook for most of the game, had his best quarter in the fourth. After being held to a single point in the third quarter — the Blue Devils scored three points total during that frame — Moravia's top gun scored eight in the final eight minutes to close out the contest.
"He's a tough kid and he's been through it all," Mulvaney said. "It's been such a great career for Gabe and he's been through so much. He's worked hard and this means so much to him. I'm the hardest on him, and he'll be the first to admit it. I want nothing but the best for that kid because he loves basketball and he loves this team."
Despite both teams coming off efficient offensive performances in the semifinal round, it was clear early that points would be at a minimum. Moravia and Elmira Notre Dame combined for only five points through the first four minutes, and the Blue Devils held a meager 11-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
The lack of flow continued through the second and third quarters, but Moravia's offense was particularly ugly in the third. The Blue Devils went the first four minutes of that sequence without a point, and the only bucket was scored by Crossgrove on a layup at the 2:58 mark.
"We were doing things out of character," Mulvaney said. "We were trying to win the game on every shot instead of running the offense and doing the things we have to do in order to win the game. We lost our flow and hit the panic button, but luckily we played defense and got enough stops so it stayed close enough to win."
Down 28-24 entering the fourth and needing to flip the script on offense, Moravia switched its defensive approach. The Blue Devils started to full-court press the Crusaders, which led to turnovers and points.
"We pressured them up top, and that led to some easy steals and easy buckets," Short said. "It changed the momentum for us and helped us get through the last part of that fourth quarter."
In the final minute with Moravia clinging to a two-point lead, the Blue Devils cleared out the middle allowing Crossgrove to drive and score on a layup. Elmira Notre Dame countered with a 3-point miss with 17 seconds left, forcing the Crusaders to foul in their own end with 10 ticks remaining.
Instead of accepting the inevitable foul and putting a player at the line, Moravia inbounded and played keep away around the perimeter to drain nine seconds. The Crusaders finally hacked Short with a second left, but the Blue Devil center knocked both tries down from the stripe to start the Moravia celebration.
"I pointed out to them to be smart," Mulvaney said. "They were going to do something and I could tell. ... I saw the look in Jordan's eyes and he wanted to go for a lob. I said hold the ball and be smart. They know in that situation the goal is to make them chase you."
In addition to the win, the Blue Devils revered the return of teammate Dustin Mondics. Mondics was in critical condition following a vehicle accident on Dec. 29, but he assumed his position in the middle of Moravia's bench and took part in the award ceremony following the game.
"To have Dustin on the bench meant everything to all of us," Short said. "He's the core of our team and does everything. He'd do anything for anyone on our team. Knowing he's safe now builds up an energy so that we can come out and play hard."
Now Moravia awaits its opponent for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association regionals, where it will face the winner of the Section III, Class C championship between Cooperstown and Tully.
Either match-up will present some challenges, as both Cooperstown and Tully feature top scoring threats in the Hawkeyes' Tyler Bertram and the Black Knights' Jason Phelps. A Cooperstown win would mean a rematch of last year's state regional match-up, where Moravia overcame a 55-point game from Bertram to win in double overtime.
"They score the crap out of the ball and they're both really good teams," Mulvaney said. "Either way we're just excited to play another game."