The Cincinnatus varsity boys basketball team’s return to the New York State Tournament after almost 40 years came to an abrupt end.
Cason Stafford scored 21 points, but the Lions fell 56-43 to Heuvelton (Section X) in the NYS Class D regional round at Liverpool High School on Saturday.
“We watched a lot of film, and we didn’t see (Heuvelton’s) athleticism,” Cincinnatus coach Jim Halstrom said. “They came out and pressed us hard.”
The Bulldogs’ offense in the first quarter came out firing on all cylinders. Their defense complimented the attack at the basket, which led to a comfortable 12-6 Heuvelton following the first.
Heuvelton’s defense built a brick wall to tame the Lions’ offensive effort. In fact, once Cincinnatus scored its sixth point on a free throw from Kooper Vosburg midway through the first, the Lions didn’t score again until Cason Stafford notched a two-pointer at about the 4-minute mark in the second.
At the half, it was 26-15 Bulldogs.
“We didn’t have any answers. We couldn’t get our shooters in line and in rhythm,” Halstrom said. “We weren’t able to push the ball inside, and that really killed us. I thought we had opportunities to do that, but we didn’t.”
Cincinnatus turned things around to start the third quarter. The Lions cut it to 26-21 with a little over four minutes left in the quarter.
Cincinnatus’ first six points of the third, however, all came on free throws. The squad’s first bucket of the quarter came from Tyler Liddle with just under four minutes.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, maintained a 33-26 advantage at the end of the third.
“We had five good possessions to start out the third quarter, but we couldn’t turn them into baskets,” Halstrom said. “We turned the momentum, but we couldn’t finish.”
Heuvelton molded a 23-17 zip in the fourth quarter on route to knocking off the Lions.
Scott Schuyler finished with 10 points for Cincinnatus. Liddle chipped in five points, Canden Stafford had four and Vosburg contributed three.
The Lions wrapped up their 2021-22 campaign with over 20 wins, a Section III Class D title for the first time since 1984, and a trip to states.
“We accomplished a lot more than we thought we would,” Halstrom said. “Kudos to those kids. They worked their tails off.”
Looking ahead to the 2022-23 campaign, Halstrom noted “it’s going to be a bit of a rebuilding season.”
Cincinnatus will graduate six seniors, including Cason Stafford, Vosburg, Schuyler, Liddle, Jordan Larrabee and Dominik Scutt.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we have some good players coming back,” Halstrom said. “We’ll do the best we can with what we have.”