LAKE GEORGE - The local high school basketball players broke through a barrier this week as they advanced in the opening rounds of the Class CC Section II Boys Basketball Tournament.
Although the team ended their season with a loss in the sectional quarterfinals Monday night, the earlier sectional games will never be forgotten.
Feb. 25, the team defeated Cambridge 53-36, then followed the victory on Saturday by beating Voorheesville 50-45.
In these accomplishments, the Lake George Warriors set aside what had been almost a hex on the team: for several years, they had lost in the opening game of sectionals, despite having talented and determined squads those years.
In the earlier game, the Warriors overcame a slow start to defeat Cambridge 53-36 with a tenacious defense.
Warrior offensive leader Nathaniel Miller said he was pleased that his team had finally put the tradition of first-round sectional losses behind them.
"It was good for us to get rid of the jitters," he said after the Cambridge game. "We've got our confidence back, and it feels good."
Trailing 7-1 midway through the first quarter, the Warriors fought back to lead Cambridge 8-7 at the end of the first quarter, then outscore them 15-5 in the second stanza.
The second half score advantage, hovering around 15 points, allowed for some risk-taking, including players passing behind their backs, fancy dribbling, no-look passes, and airborne ball interceptions.
"It was a fun atmosphere out there tonight," Jake Nelson said.
Even Cambridge caught the spirit, as freshman guard Will Brominski several times dribbled behind his back as he advanced down the floor.
Despite the fun, the teams played serious ball, Miller said.
With relatively few fouls being called, the Warriors stepped up their physicality, crashing through arms to put the ball in the hoop.
"We were playing as hard as we could out there," Miller said.
Rebounds were also important, player Matt McGowan said.
"We were rebounding well tonight - on both offense and defense, but particularly on transition," he said. "We were moving the ball up the floor and catching the Cambridge players off-guard."
The rebounding in the second quarter was crucial, with the Warriors commanding a 10-4 advantage.
Warrior rebound record-holder Jake Nelson was nearly always in the mix, grabbing loose balls with ferocity.
Nothing seemed to stand in the way of his goal to win the game, flying through the air to retrieve loose basketballs, timing his jumps with precision so he could grab rebounds.
During the night, he passed the 700-rebound mark for his career.
For the night, Miller grabbed 14 rebounds, Nelson took 13, and Matt McGowan tallied 9.
Cambridge's Kyle Parmenter was by far the high scorer for the game - which is a testimony to the depth of the Warrior offense.
Nathaniel Miller scored two three-pointers, which he routinely sank at critical points in the game.
He mixed up layups with jumpers and outside shots, keeping the Cambridge defense off-rhythm.
In the Voorheesville game, he sank three three-pointers, confirming that even if opponents are successful in keeping him away from the basket, he'll score points anyway.
Miller said his offensive versatility was due to his many hours of practice since he was 9 with his father. For three hours or more a day, Nathaniel said, he'd practice with his father Tom Miller at the local elementary school or the Glens Falls YMCA, shooting from all over the court and working on post moves.
"I always wanted to be as good as or better than my brother," Nathaniel said.
His brother, Josh Miller, graduated in 2001 as the school's third-highest scorer on record.
The fancy stuff came from watching street ball and analyzing Kobe Bryant's moves, Nathaniel said.
Kryptonite, character key against Voorheesville
Against Voorheesville, Warrior senior Lucas Freihofer stepped up with three 3-pointers, demonstrating the depth of this talented team.
Miller scored 18 points and Jake Nelson provided 10 in this sectional quarterfinal game held at Saint Rose College.
In the effort, fifth-seeded Lake George and fourth seeded Voorheesville were evenly matched, trading leads to the halfway mark, 26-24 in favor of the team from suburban Albany area.
The Warriors then outscored the Blackbirds 18-7 in the third quarter to achieve the winning margin.
Lake George Athletic Director Cathy Stanilka said the players demonstrated their considerable character as they played with poise and determination in the final minutes.
With the game in the balance during the final minutes, Miller hit the front end of a 1-1 foul shot to make the game a two-possession contest, and the players then slowed the game down to preserve their lead.
"Right down to the wire, our kids played extremely smart," Stanilka said Monday. "We're ecstatic, and very, very proud of our players."
Nelson, measuring 5'11" but blessed with incredible vertical velocity, pushed his game to new heights, matching up well with his 6'6" opponent, Voorheesville scoring sensation Ethan Mackey.
Nelson and guard Robert Mastrantoni, who both jump like they have Kryptonite in their sneakers, were in classic form for the Voorheesville game.
"Jake has great hang time and incredible instincts," Stanilka said. "But all our kids played well, and coach Dave Jones did a heck of a job - he really knows the game."
Stanilka said strategy and execution made the difference.
"Dave's a guiding force - the kids responded - and it made all the difference in the last four minutes."
Contributing to the final tally was Mastrantoni with 7 points and Matt McGowan with 6.
Logan Place also played quality minutes for the team.
The Warriors then competed in the Sectional semifinals at the Glens Falls Civic Center Monday, losing 80-56 to No. 1-seeded Maple Hill, carried by the powerful offense attack of Senior Trent Tibbits who scored 21 points. Last year, Maple Hill was runner up in Section II, and Tuesday, they were highly favored to win the 2009 title.