Walraths enjoying postseason run by OESJ boys’ basketball

PHOTOGRAPHER:

OESJ boys’ basketball head coach Jarrod Walrath talks to his team between quarters during the Section II Class D final on March 5 at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.

ST. JOHNSVILLE When they walked out of the arena following OESJ’s loss to Harrisville in the 2019 Class D boys’ basketball championship game, Jarrod Walrath and his son, Jesse, had a discussion that proved to be prophetic.

“When the boys lost in Binghamton. My dad said to me that he was thinking about putting in to become the coach,” Jesse Walrath said. “He said when we were leaving the arena, ‘Why don’t we do this again when you’re a senior.’ And we’ve done it.”

After the 2019 season, longtime OESJ coach Jason Brundage stepped down, and Jarrod Walrath stepped in to coach the Wolves.

Three years later, he has guided OESJ back to the state semifinals. Along side are his two sons, Jesse and Jacob.

“I can’t ask for anything more. I couldn’t write it any better myself,” coach Walrath said. “To be coaching my sons in the state semifinals is incredible. I’ve got Jesse, who is a senior, and Jacob, a sophomore, with me, which is great. It’s just unbelievable.”

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With the 2020 and 2021 state tournaments wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, OESJ is making its second straight trip to the state semifinals.

“The kids are super excited to be playing in the state semifinals,” coach Walrath said. “I’ve tried to impress upon them how special this is and how it doesn’t happen very often so they can enjoy it and soak it in.”

For coach Walrath, getting to the state tournament in Glens Falls is the realization of a lifelong goal.

“I never achieved this when I played. We made the sectional semifinals,” coach Walrath said. “When I was 9 though, we followed the 1987 St. Johnsville team that made it to the state semifinals with coach Phil Schoff. That kind of put the seed in my head that I wanted to be a coach like him.”

Walrath has done it in just his third season as coach. Prior to this season’s run, OESJ was 6-16 in his first season in 2020 and 0-8 in last winter’s abbreviated season.

“I knew this group had a chance to be good, but I wasn’t sure just how far we would go,” coach Walrath said. “It’s been a great run and we want it to continue for a couple more games.”

Unlike its 2019 trip, the Wolves will be heading to Glens Falls, which is making its return as host of the state boys’ basketball tournament. OESJ has already played at the Cool Insuring Arena — formerly known as the Glens Falls Civic Center — twice in this year’s postseason run.

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“We’re happy to be headed back to Glens Falls,” coach Walrath said. “Last weekend, we had a three-and-a-half-hour trip. This weekend, it will only be an hour-and-a-half. We feel at home at the Civic Center.”

OESJ (15-9 overall) punched its return ticket to Glens Falls with a 57-46 victory over Section VII Class D champion Seton Catholic in the regional finals Sunday at Clinton Community College.

Mason Snell led the Wolves with 18 points. Paetyn Logan-Dillenbeck and Owen Feagles each had 16 points for OESJ, which is 10th in the latest state Class D rankings.

“It’s pretty awesome. It’s great to be headed back to the Civic Center,” Jesse Walrath said.

In its other two trips to Glens Falls, OESJ notched a 53-34 win over Argyle in the Section II Class D semifinals on March 2 and a 52-45 victory over Northville in the Section II Class D title game on March 5.

“I definitely think it’s a little advantage to have played in Glens Falls already,” Jesse Walrath said. “All of the teams that will be playing there are good though, so I don’t think it’s as much of an advantage as it could be.”

The Wolves are slated to face Section V champion Avoca/Prattsburgh in Friday’s state semifinal contest at 11:15 a.m.

“We know that they’re a good team. They’re 25-0, ranked first in the state and on a 36-game win streak,” coach Walrath said. “They’re every bit as good as their record. We know we’re going in as the underdog. We’re going to play like we don’t have anything to lose.”

Avoca/Prattsburgh is the top-ranked team in the latest Class D state poll and rolled to a 78-56 victory over Section VI champion Westfield in last weekend’s West Regional final at Buffalo State.

“Basically, we’re just going to go with what got us here,” coach Walrath said. “We’re going to play together, stay together, believe in each other, take care of the call, control the boards, and make smart decisions.”

Sawyer DeVoe led Avoca-Prattsburgh with 30 points and 15 rebounds, while Pacey Hopkins had 25 points,10 rebounds, and five assists.

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“We watched a little bit of film on them in practice. They’re fast and they get up and down the court,” Jesse Walrath said. “We’ve got to figure something out.”

The winner of the OESJ-Avoca/Prattsburgh contest will face either Section IV champion South Kortright or Section X champion Heuvelton in Saturday’s Class D state title game at 5:15 p.m.

Sitting just two wins from a state title seemed unlikely at best when the Wolves were mired in a six-game losing streak near the end of the regular season.

After starting the season 10-3, OESJ dropped its next six games.

The slide prompted coach Walrath to call for a players-only meeting.

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“We had a meeting to sort things out. My dad told all of us before practice that day to go to the locker room and figure it out,” Jesse Walrath said. “Since then, we’ve been playing together and playing well.”

Though the Wolfpack lost 87-82 in overtime to Bishop Gibbons in its Western Athletic Conference crossover game, OESJ played well and went on to win its final regular-season contest, a non-league game at Herkimer, 52-51.

In the postseason, OESJ posted wins over Loudonville Christian (61-59), Argyle (53-54) and Northville (52-45) to claim its second Section II Class D title since 2019 before defeating Seton Catholic in regional play.

It was the second sectional title this year for OESJ, which saw its boys’ soccer team claim the Section II Class D title last fall.

“In soccer, we always knew we could win sectionals,” Jesse Walrath said. “I think the experience has helped us carry it through.”

The experience during the Wolves’ basketball run is one that Jesse Walrath won’t ever forget.

“It’s great to be doing this with my dad and brother,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better in my senior year.”

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By Paul Wager

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