The 2013-14 North Warren Varsity Boys Basketball team includes: (front, left to right): Iain Underwood (white shirt), Dan Hill , Daren Granger, Nick Sapienza, Justice Parker, (rear): Colby May, Jacob Dunkley and Hayden Smith. (Not pictured): Josef Strauss, Dan Tennyson and Rob Wallace.
In a dramatic comeback victory that mirrored their season’s campaign, the North Warren boys basketball team upset Fort Ann Saturday Feb. 22 in a key Sectional showdown.
Outscored 35 to 27 at halftime after Fort Ann’s trap defense frustrated their game play, North Warren struck back to upset the third-seeded Cardinals for a slim 60-58 victory in the Section II Class D tournament quarterfinals.
The win moves them forward in the regional tourney to face Argyle, reigning state champions, in a game scheduled for Wednesday Feb. 26 in the Glens Falls Civic Center.
In the first half in the Feb. 22 game, Fort Ann’s trap defense stymied North Warren, forcing a slew of turnovers.
At halftime, new Cougar coach Jeremy Whipple advised his players to stay calm, concentrate on taking better care of the ball, and to pass the ball to an open player when two opponents are swarming around.
“This is exactly what we expected,” he told his players, referring to a Dec. 13 game against Fort Ann, in which the Cardinals employed the same intense defensive strategy.
The Cougars heeded Whipple’s advice — and their hot shooting from a number of players — along with steely poise in the final minutes of play — gave them the victory.
This is the first time that North Warren, one of the smallest schools in the region, has been to the Sectional semifinals since 2007.
Their come-from-behind victory reflected their 2013-14 season, which began with losses by 15 to 25 points to teams they defeated in later matchups.
Determination made the difference for North Warren in Saturday’s game.
Fort Ann concentrated on keeping Cougar scoring leader Nick Sapienza away from the basket, but that didn’t stop him — he hit five three-pointers, scoring 15 points despite their tough defense.
Meanwhile, Cougar’s number-six player, Junior Colby May, stepped up and made some critical plays. Repeatedly driving to the basket, he scored 19 points for the game. Iain Underwood, a Senior who has recently emerged as an offensive threat, scored 17 points.
The Cougar defense was also in high gear. They managed to contain Derek Durkee, Fort Ann’s all-time top scorer.
Whipple praised his players’ persistence.
“In the beginning of the game, Fort Ann did a really nice job in disrupting us,” he said. “Our players were a little flustered and excited, but in the second half, the guys settled down made better decisions.”
The season’s dramatic turnaround has been a matter of the Cougar players not only developing field vision and team chemistry, but knowing they can achieve their lofty goals, Whipple added.
“They’ve bought into the system, they believe when they do what they’re supposed to do, good things happen. The guys have come a long way, and they are now confident they can play with anybody,” he said. “Their confidence level is now sky-high.”
The team’s offensive leader this year is Junior Nick Sapienza, who surpassed 1,000 points during a Feb. 7 game against Warrensburg, which the Cougars won 70-34 — after losing to the Burghers earlier in the season. Sapienza, a guard, is known for his aggressive rebounding and scrappy defense, as well as distributing the ball effectively to open teammates.
Senior Iain Underwood lately has been key to the Cougar offense, streaking to the basket, leaving defenders behind. Senior Justice Parker and Jacob Dunkley are both tough defenders and savvy interior passers, Whipple said. Senior Dan Hill, a forward, serves as the team’s spark plug, motivating his teammates with his hard work in practice and on the floor, the coach added.
“Hill leads by example — he’s a real motivator,” Whipple said, adding that Colby May has emerged in the last two seasons as an offensive threat.
“They are great kids, they’ve really worked hard and come together,” the coach said. “They are really unified — they don’t care if they are behind in a game — they just don’t quit.”
Whipple said this team has tallied some remarkable achievements, while creating a lot of good memories for area sports fans.
“This is one of the teams I’m most proud of, not just because of their record, but because of how they’ve come together as a group,” he concluded.