GLENS FALLS — Head coach Kevin Hinds and the Randolph Cardinals boys basketball team had to wait 19 years between New York State High School Athletic Association championship games at Cool Insuring Arena.
Hinds and the Cardinals were determined not to wait that long again, and it worked because they will be back today.
Randolph fought through adversity Friday in its Class C state semifinal against Section IV Moravia and prevailed 50-43.
“I have no words” Hind said of advancing to the state final. “Then, with one of our best players going out early, we’re on our way and things are looking really good. We play six guys, one kid (Cooper Freeman) on the JV team hadn’t played a minute on varsity, came in and played 13 minutes, took care of the ball and didn’t turn it over. Roan Kelly came in defensively and didn’t miss a beat, but offensively we were limited.”
Although the Cardinals have the best trio of shooters Hinds has had in a while, they are a team that puts a lot of focus on defense. So when the heart of Randolph’s defense, Griffin Nelson, went down with an injury with 2:15 left in the first quarter, the Cardinals were going to need not only the big three, but the bench as well.
“Not good,” Hind said of Nelson’s injury. “He’s the heart and soul of our defense and really our team. His loss was great, and to be able to bear it; there was a point in the game where I really thought we should have put it away and it was out of sync, out of rhythm, out of something. … we just had to improvise.”
With Nelson on the floor, Randolph commanded the game and led 17-13 after the first quarter. However, with the reserves entering the game earlier than usual, the rhythm was disrupted on offense, leading to a quiet second quarter for the Cardinals, who managed just a 23-20 halftime lead.
With Moravia on its heels, Randolph needed its big three to step up in the second half and got exactly what it needed in the third quarter.
After a quiet Far West Regional by his standards, Drew Hind had one of his best games of the year against Moravia. The sophomore guard attacked the basket all game for the Cardinals – scoring 8 of his 20 points in the third quarter – and completed three three-point plays.
“Basically in the second half I gave the ball to Drew and got out of the way,” Coach Hind said of the offense. “Finally he went down. Not so much in the first half, but down the stretch in the second half, he was attacking the basket, finishing, shedding people and taking care of the ball for the most part (and then) Carson Conley was making huge shot after huge shot all tournament long.”
From beyond the arc, Conley was once again lethal for Randolph, hitting four treys in key situations that lifted the Cardinals’ offense. Conley finished with a team-high 20 points to tie Hind.
Friday’s game featured Hind and Conley stepping up offensively until Jaiden Huntington had his best performance. Although his numbers weren’t where they usually were in the scorebook, Huntington picked his spot in the fourth quarter to make his two touchdowns that helped put the game out of reach for Moravia.
“The three are really good” Hind said. “Jaden said, ‘Don’t worry Coach, I’ll have you tomorrow,’ and we’re going to need him. That’s the first thing he said to me when he walked off the court. Let’s not forget he had the big bucket there at the end to push it to five.
While Randolph’s defense stymied top-ranked Moravia, what made the Blue Devils’ comeback effort even more difficult was the loss of their leading scorer Abram Vasileski in the third quarter to injury. Vasileski finished with 12 points and forced point guard Kyler Propper to look for different options.
Even without its leading scorer, Moravia was able to cut the game to one possession in the fourth quarter. With 4:11 remaining, Owen Nelson fouled out, prompting the Cardinals to go deep into the bench to clinch the win.
Moravia was able to cut the lead to 46-43 with 2:47 left, but that was the last time it made a basket and Randolph made free throws late in the stretch.
“We have a few defenses we can throw out,” Conley said. “Watching a movie, we immediately know what we’re going to play. It was 2-3 today and it was more of a last minute decision because we wanted to go in and play checkers. During the game we just figure out what works. We ended up settling into 2-3 and that ended up working out well for us.”
The Cardinals are now one game away from their state championship goal and will have to go through another set of Blue Devils, this time against Section I Haldane at 5:15 pm today back at Cool Insuring Arena.
Haldane won’t be the only thing on the Cardinals’ minds, as they’ll also be thinking about their fellow women, who will play in the NYSPHSAA Class C semifinals this afternoon against Section IV Union Springs in Troy.
“The community … we’re just completely blessed right now,” Conley said of the girls playing in the semifinals today. “This whole deal we have is amazing. We’re going to bed tonight knowing we’re going to the state championship, and we’re going to wake up and go watch the girls in their semifinal game. We are just completely blessed and grateful for this opportunity.”
“Not many schools would spend the money to bring their cheerleaders here, and that’s just huge for us,” added Drew Hind. “Having them here just gives us that energy and then we see our girls go to the state championships as well. Everything is great, our community is just amazing.”
Vasileski 5 2 12, Kelly 2 1 5, Propper 4 1 10, Bell 1 0 2, Baylor 4 0 8, Nye 2 0 6, Adams 0 0 0. Totals 18 4 43.
ONelson 0 0 0, Hind 8 3 20, GNelson 1 0 2, Conley 8 0 20, Huntington 2 0 4, Kelly 1 2 4, Farnham 0 0 0, Freeman 0 0 0. Totals 20 5 50.
3-point goals – Proper, Nye 2, Hind, Conley 4.
Moravia 16 5 13 10 — 43
Randolph 20 3 18 9 — 50