Okay, so we're not gonna take a cruise on the Hudson River line, to paraphrase Billy Joel's line, but ThePantherExpress is parked on its famous siding along the Otter Creek, with its "Sweet Sixteen" banner snapping in the wind, while the crowd of 'PantherFaithful' snake-dances its way through town to see TheBoys take on the Ithaca Bombers, another Empire State representative. After Midd's 'D' had cooled the fire-breathing RedDragons, who only puffed a couple of times, and never really caught fire, with their top two G.'s firing a combined 7for24, (never a recipe for success), the local announcers decided that Midd didn't need any asbestos suits for protection, and let us move on to the Sweet Sixteen. Not lost in earning the road 'W' was the grittiness and tenacity on display in Cortland. TheBoys shot the ball better (marginally from the arc) but came up big in controlling their hotshots, and survived a career effort by their big guy. Then when the dark clouds were gathering with Midd down-seven, and the clock said 8:53 till the golf season, Jake made another 3-ball in his history of big shots, then stole the ball and went coast-to-coast to bring Midd back to down-two. From there James swept the boards, Joey controlled the rock, and knocked in two big buckets, and Pedro came alive with a couple of inside stops, and made the FT's to send Cortland packing. Again with the clock under nine minutes, TheBoys were dominant, closing out Cortland 19 -8, with Pedro driving home the last nails.
Now it's time for the last hurrah at Pepin for these seniors, and to celebrate what an unbelievable run they've given us over their careers. Those who think this is the new normal really have little idea how hard these seasons are to achieve, but 103 wins and counting (including 17and 6 in nescac tourney and ncaa elimination games) has them breathless. From my skybox here the view is that it's not over yet, and the Elite Eight is again reachable, and this story will keep unfolding. Last year when we got to this juncture, TheBoys opened the Scranton game flat, finally fought back to a closing tie only to take the dagger of a long 3-ball at the buzzer. This week's preparations include JeffB. more than gently prodding them with the big reminder stick that says "Scranton!" on it. As good as Ithaca has been in coming up with two road wins, they are about to meet a different kind of defense in a very hostile environment. Led by Rossi, the alltime ncaa assist leader (he broke my career assist record in his 4th game as a frosh), and St.Mike's (d-2) transfer Warech, NolanT., Joey and James will have to be on them from the gitgo. Disrupt their passing, deny the lanes. No open looks for Warech. The reason our trio is mentioned is that gives us three guys to attack their two, and Jeff is accorded the semi-luxury of keeping the freshest of legs on each. The pluses are that we've got size inside, Pedro can damage this team down low, and feel that NateB.'s continuing contributions give us another little edge. At this stage of the tourney, it's about making the most of those edges. And we've got the home cookin'. At Pepin, where every seat will be attended by a fanny, the place will be rocking before the anthem's last notes have died away. My take is that Ithaca won't be able to overcome the defense, the pressure of playing in a packed house on the road (last week at Rochester the kids were on spring break, so that is a consideration) and Midd's ability to control a game late, making them definitely do-able. And although it is one round deeper, where the pain of being on the endangered species list lies in wait, TheBoys are capable of getting this up into DD's, so that if you stand on your tip-toes late in the second half, you'll be able to see the Salem Civic Center on the horizon. It's been a great run. Thanks to the seniors for going out in style. Regardless of the outcome, celebrate them.
And remember: "Down TheAlibi stairs, past the D.U. house, out of 'DickTheHealer's' whirlpool, and off the 35-second clock, nothin' but net! Be well. Clubbo.