In the opening half the Wolfpack pounded the ball inside against defending Section II Class D champion Argyle but could not get the ball to fall. However, their defense kept the Scots from getting away.
Coach Jason Brundage pointed to a single play at the end of the first half that got things going in the right direction.
“I think the key to the game was the steal we had at the end of the half and [Colton] Cooper made the basket to cut the lead to six and keep it to two possessions,” he said. “They sort of breathed when they came back here [the locker room] and got their legs back under them.”
OESJ opened the second-half with an 11-0 run to take the lead and their defense did the rest as they held the fourth-seeded Scots to eight second-half points to lock up the 41-31 victory and advance to Friday’s Section II Class D championship game at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
“We got back to doing what we have been doing all year; same thing as Saturday,” coach Brundage said. “A one-day turn-around is tough. We had yesterday to get them ready to face a good young team [Argyle]. So we were out of our mind on offense, but defense we were there the whole game.”
Top-seeded OESJ will face the winner of tonight’s Class D semifinal between No. 2 Germantown and No 3 Whitehall for the Class D championship at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Early in the game, OESJ found success driving to the hoop as Tyler Leon and Devyn Jones both scored on three-point plays but found themselves on the short end of the 14-10 first-quarter score.
The Scots closed ranks under the basket keeping the OESJ shooters on the perimeter.
However, the Wolfpack defense also did its job shutting down the passing lanes, deflecting passes and grabbing defensive rebounds, allowing the Argyle shooters one shot at the basket.
OESJ got the momentum swing it was looking for at the end of the second quarter when Jack Brundage picked the ball off near midcourt and fired the ball ahead to Cooper who laid the ball in as time expired to put the halftime score at 23-17 in favor of Argyle.
OESJ wasted little time getting the infusion of offense it needed in the game early in the third quarter.
Jones delivered a jumper from the left side in the opening seconds of the quarter to start an 11-0 run in which he scored nine of the points in the opening three minutes of the second half to give the Wolfpack a 28-23 advantage before Argyle coach Jack Sherwin called for a full time out.
The Scots put up four unanswered points, a basket from Andrew Cormie and two free throws from Peyton Lufkin to trim the lead to 28-27.
OESJ slowed the pace of the game down, running its offensive sets down into the final seconds on the shot clock.
“We came out with that 11-0 run, then we went braindead again. But we are used to that,” coach Brundage said. “We slowed the pace down to help our guys get back in their right mind. We have a pretty good point guard [Jack Brundage] and he kind of knows when we need to go.”
Jones got the scoring going again with his 3-pointer, while Leon got a put-back off a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wolfpack a 33-27 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Cormie hit a field goal for Argyle in the opening seconds of the final stanza and that was the final basket from the field for the Scots as the OESJ defense continued to hound the Argyle shooters, forcing them into poor shot selections.
Meanwhile, Jack Brundage hit the lone field goal of the final stanza for the Wolfpack as OESJ converted on 6-of-8 free throws in the final eight minutes to punch its ticket to the Section II Class D title game with the 41-31 victory.
“31 points in four quarters, you can’t question the effort,” coach Brundage said. “The hard thing, especially for a young player, is that when you are not putting the ball in the basket your defense suffers. These guys just kept playing defense and that is the difference. Playing in this arena it is pretty special and for a 17 year old kid, sometimes they forget and don’t do what they have done all year.”
The Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville defense held Lufkin; the Scots’ leading scorer who came into the game averaging 28 points per game, to a season-low nine points, while Cormie and Andrew Facin had eight points apiece, Garret Caprood had four points and Chris Reynolds two points to round out the Argyle scoring.
Jones led the Wolves’ scoring with 23 points to go with seven rebounds, while Leon had a double-double of 13 points and 18 rebounds to go with two steals an assist and a blocked shot. Jack Brundage had four points, three rebounds, four steals and four assists, while Cooper rounds out the OESJ scoring with two points and an assist.
The Wolfpack will have a little time to prepare for Friday’s championship game and get back into their normal routine.
“Playing over the break you are with the kids a lot but there is a lot of time where you don’t know what they are doing and they are not in their normal routine,” coach Brundage said. “To have them play back-to-back that puts you at a disadvantage. Now we have three days to get ready for whoever we are going to see. We are going to play hard, I promise you that.”
Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville will be making its second appearance in the championship game in three years. The Wolfpack played Argyle for the Class D title in 2016 and came up on the short end of the 73-62 final score. Before the merger, St. Johnsville won the Section II Class D title in 2007, defeating North Warren 55-38 and was runner-up to Northville in 2008.
Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville 41, Argyle 31
Argyle 14 9 4 4 — 31
Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville 10 7 16 8 — 41
Lufkin 2-4-9, Reynolds 1-0-2, Cormie 4-0-8, Facin 2-2-8, Caprood 2-0-4. Totals: 11-8-31.
Brundage 2-0-4, Cooper 1-0-2, Jones 7-7-23, Leon 4-4-12. Totals: 14-11-41.
3-point goals: Argyle 3 (Andrew Facin 2, Peyton Lufkin); Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville 2 (Devyn Jones 2).