SKANEATELES — Due to enrollment sizes, it's rare that athletic programs from Skaneateles and Weedsport face off.
On Friday, boys basketball teams from the two schools close in proximity but lacking in familiarity broke that trend.
The result was an instant classic.
Skaneateles held off Weedsport 73-70 Friday at Skaneateles High School in a meeting between two teams that entered Friday with undefeated records. The Lakers, who led by double-digits various times, came up with a defensive stand on the Warriors' last possession to clinch the win.
"We knew they needed a 3 at the end," Skaneateles coach Karl Norris said. "I just told the guys to switch screens and stay on the shooters. We were lucky to have a good defensive possession and not play overtime against them, because it would've been right down to the wire I'm sure."
Weedsport only momentarily went ahead on Skaneateles, taking a brief lead on the Lakers midway through the first quarter. Otherwise the Warriors were battling uphill for most of the night. They did enough to hang around though, and after some missed free throws by Skaneateles in the final minute, Weedsport had a chance for a game-tying 3-pointer at the fourth-quarter buzzer that would've forced overtime.
That shot, taken by Kelin DeJohn, was blocked by the Lakers' Tommy Reed to end the game.
"They had a 6-5 guy closing out on a 5-11 guy," Weedsport coach Jon Sgarlata said. "They made a great play, got back well, knew we needed a 3. Skaneateles really just won the possession and did a great job defending everything. We didn't even get a clean look because they defended it perfectly."
Despite Skaneateles playing in Class B and Weedsport in Class C, there was incentive from both sides to schedule a game as a non-league matchup. The Lakers and Warriors often scrimmage each other prior to the regular season, but this year decided to add some meaning to those contests.
That decision paid immediate dividends, especially considering both schools are currently state-ranked in their respective class sizes.
"I knew we needed a tough game early in the season, especially before our Christmas tournament," Sgarlata said. "We wanted to play somebody really good, preferably a road game on a Friday night. We knew it would be a battle ... two good teams with contrasting styles, so I was happy to get the game."
It was clear early that the Warriors would have trouble with the Lakers' advantage in length. Skaneateles challenged Weedsport's guards with lanky defenders usually spotted closer to the rim, and as a result the Warriors struggled at times to convert their looks at the basket.
"We're blessed (with length), because we haven't had much of that the last few years," Norris said. "This team is long, and we've got some guys on the bench that are big and physical too. It's nice and it presents some matchup problems for the other team and for our team, but overall it's a positive thing. We've got to do a better job on the boards though with the size we have."
The Lakers led by seven at the end of the first quarter and again at halftime, but a layup by Reed halfway through the third quarter put Skaneateles ahead by double-digits, 50-39, for the first time all game. The difference stayed near that range until Weedsport's Joshua O'Connor converted a three-point play with 3:45 left in regulation, bringing the Warriors within five. Skaneateles' advantage shrunk to as little as two following consecutive layups by Owen Mabbett inside the final minute.
The Lakers went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line with 15 seconds left, leaving one last try for Weedsport to knock down a 3 and extend the game. The Warriors advanced the ball and had a look from the corner by DeJohn, but Skaneateles' length defied Weedsport again as the shot was blocked.
Jack Whirtley finished as Skaneateles' top scorer with 20 points, while Nate Fouts posted 19 points, Jack Canty had 18 and Andrew Neumann recorded 10.
Jake Brown scored 17 for Weedsport, Joel Blumer dropped in 14 and Mabbett scored 11.
Skaneateles (5-0) looks to continue its strong start on the road at Chittenango Tuesday, while Weedsport (5-1) is off until Wednesday when the Warriors host Port Byron.
The Lakers, who already have a win over defending Section III, Class B champion Westhill in their back pocket, aren't looking too far ahead on the schedule but Norris believes there's a chance his current group could be a special one.
"It's a good start to the season obviously. We had one road game to start the season against Westhill and then a nice stretch of home games here," Norris said. "I don't want to be a cliche but we're just looking on to the next one. The guys know we have a chance in Class B and that's all you want. I think there are five or six schools that have a chance in Class B, and I think we're one of them. We're going to be right in the mix, and that makes it exciting to get in the gym everyday."