The last — and only — time Randolph reached the final four of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the Cardinals faced Section III champion Tully in the semifinals.
Midway through the first quarter of that game, one of Randolph’s best players, Nick Shoby, was injured under the east basket at what was then the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Later, when head coach Kevin Hinds asked Shobey if he was ready to re-enter the competition, the Cardinals senior gave his coach a confident “Yes” but as he stood up to head for the secretary’s desk, he collapsed.
Shoby never returned to the game, Randolph lost 46-33, and Shoby was later diagnosed with three broken ribs.
On Saturday, in Randolph’s first trip back to Glens Falls since 2004, Hind experienced an eerie moment of deja vu.
With 2:15 left in the first quarter of Randolph’s state semifinal against Section IV champion Moravia, the Cardinals’ Griffin Nelson picked up a steal and soared to the basket for a layup.
It would end up being Nelson’s only bucket of the game.
As the sophomore came down, his momentum carried him into the post holding the basket above the court, and his lower leg hit the padded structure.
At the east end of the courtyard.
In the first quarter.
In what is now called the Cool Insuring Arena.
As he lay on the floor writhing in pain, Nelson told assistant coaches and a NYSPHSAA representative that he heard something click.
He was eventually helped to the bench where his lower leg/ankle was wrapped. He never returned to the game.
Owen Nelson, a senior for the Cardinals and Griffin’s older brother, was clearly affected by the injury, got into foul trouble and was never able to put his stamp on the game.
But Randolph persevered.
Jaden Huntington was whistled for three early drives, and the Cardinals’ usually solid inside-outside presence never took over the game.
But Randolph persevered.
Senior Carson Conley and sophomore Drew Hind carried the scoring load for the Cardinals with 20 points apiece.
And while Roan Kelly, Tristan Farnham and Cooper Freeman were largely non-factors on the offensive end of the field, they were just as important to the Cardinals’ success as Conley and Hinds.
Kelly was a key part of Randolph’s press, making a break early in the second half and burying two clutch free throws late that helped put the game out of reach for the Blue Devils.
Farnham grabbed three rebounds, an assist on defense and didn’t turn the ball over in his six minutes of action.
Freeman — a JV mold who didn’t see varsity minutes until late in the season and has yet to score his first varsity basket — played nine minutes, grabbed a rebound and picked up a key steal for the Cardinals.
Griffin Nelson sat at the end of the bench the entire game, and when the final buzzer sounded, his older brother was the first to find him for an emotional hug. Drew Hind ended up running over to his dad for a big hug and immediately found Griffin at the end of the bench to share a moment.
One by one, each member of the Cardinals hugged Griffin before heading to the locker room in the bowels of Cool Insuring Arena.
Griffin Nelson will not physically be on the court with his Cardinal teammates when they take on Section I champion Haldane in today’s 5:15 p.m. back-to-back championship “America’s Hometown”, but each of his teammates will carry a part of him on the floor.
Coach Hind never saw how his team would react to the loss of a key player in 2004.
He will get that opportunity today when the Cardinals play for the program’s first state title.