February 14, 2009


Gritty Saints snare 4th straight playoff crown


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland Christian Academy’s Nathan Ploss (25) drives the baseline past Valley Heights’ Justin Miller (13) in the second quarter of Friday’s ESCAL title game. Ploss scored 16 points in 49-44 Saints’ win.

CINCINNATUS — Kyle Kinney scored 25 points, including a key go-ahead basket with 1:55 left to play, as Cortland Christian Academy boys captured a fourth consecutive playoff conference title with a 49-44 basketball victory over Valley Heights from Norwich Friday night.
The two regular season co-champions exchanged the lead nine times in a frantic second half before the Saints pulled away at Cincinnatus Central High School to continue this run of Empire State Athletic Conference League playoff success.
In the girls’ title game that opened up this twin bill, top seed Valley Heights continued its championship domination of Cortland Christian with a 39-33 win sparked by 15 points from Sarah Miedema. It was the third straight title game victory by Valley Heights over the Lady Saints, who were beaten in all three meetings by the Norwich squad this season.
While 6-foot-2 senior Kinney was a huge inside presence for the Saints (14-3) in the nightcap, making 12-of-20 shots and also grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds, the second half shooting of freshman Nathan Ploss was also crucial in leading the locals back from a 24-17 halftime deficit. Missing on all nine of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc in the opening half, Ploss was 4-for-8 from long range after intermission and finished with 16 points.
Valley Heights (14-4) actually built a nine-point lead after scoring the opening basket of the third quarter, though the Saints went on a 12-2 spurt to take a 29-28 lead with 3:25 left in that stanza. That’s when each team took turns sharing the lead, the Saints digging out of a couple of five-point holes along the way.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Ploss, made after he failed to convert a breakaway layup, overcame one of those five-point deficits and put the Saints ahead 41-40. The lead kept switching hands from there, Kinney baskets giving Cortland Christian 43-42 and 45-44 advantages — the last putting the Saints ahead for keeps.
Luke Halberg, who was the only Valley Heights player in double figures with 31 points, fouled out of the game with 30 seconds left to play while banging the offensive boards with his side down 47-44. Cortland Christian’s Kyle Ripley missed the front end of that 1-and-1 foul line chance and Ploss failed to convert a follow-up show before Kinney grabbed another offensive rebound and scored the final points of the game.
Ploss had eight rebounds and Kyle Ripley came up with eight assists for the victorious Saints.
CORTLAND CHRISTIAN girls held a 6-4 lead in the first quarter when Valley Heights (17-1) scored 11 unanswered points to take the lead for keeps. That run coincided with Lady Saints point guard Larissa Miller being sidelined with foul trouble.
The top seeds led 24-13 at halftime and withstood second half comeback attempts by Cortland Christian (8-7), the Lady Saints getting to within 34-29 with a run of six straight points in the final quarter before Valley Heights regained control.
Leah Sweeney had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Cortland Christian offense, with Miller and Diane Horton added six points apiece. Freshman Kristen Miller had a team high five assists off the bench. The Lady Saints had lost in overtime earlier this season to Valley Heights and by 18 points a week prior to this title game clash.
While Miedema led the champions in scoring, the 12-point contribution of unheralded Hannah Miles provided an important piece to this Valley Heights title game victory.
Cortland Christian teams have a non-league game this coming Friday in Syracuse against a home-school opponent, those games to be held at the Syracuse Rescue Mission starting at 5 p.m.
ESCAL ALL-STAR games were being played this morning back at Cincinnatus Central, where the all-league teams were announced.
Junior Halberg from Valley Heights was named the most valuable player on the boys’ side. Kinney and Ploss from Cortland Christian, Cincinnatus Christian senior Ben Hicks, Josh Tillinghast from Emmanuel Baptist in Penn Yan and Andrew Calabrese from Baldwinsville Christian were also on the all-star first team.
Valley Heights sophomore Miedema was the girls’ MVP. She was joined on the first team by juniors Larissa Miller and Sweeney from Cortland Christian, junior Rachel Hicks from Cincinnatus Christian, Faith Caster from Baldwinsville Christian and Amanda Evans from Valley Heights.