SYRACUSE In the larger context, the boys basketball game between Westhill and Skaneateles Sunday at the Carrier Dome for the Section III Class B championship was just that - a game, nothing more.
Yet tragic circumstances added an extra layer of emotion to the occasion, one that fueled the Warriors - and would eventually overwhelm the Lakers.
Mostly paced by the sophomore tandem of Jordan Roland and Tyler Reynolds, Westhill put away Skaneateles 63-51 to earn its third sectional title in four years.
Westhill will face Norwich (Section IV) Saturday night at 6:30 in the Class B regional final. The winner advances to Glens Falls Civic Center for the state final four on March 15-16.
Both sides had high amounts of motivation. For Skaneateles, it was simply a matter of a basketball team trying to end a 20-year sectional basketball title drought against the same team that beat them in the 2011 finals.
For Westhill, though, the motivation was entirely different and had little to do with the game itself. Early Saturday morning, Westhill senior Anna Pullano, 18, lost her life in an automobile accident near the Syracuse University campus.
In Pullano’s memory, a candlelight vigil was held at Westhill High School on Saturday night, and the crowd at the Dome observed a moment of silence prior to the game’s tip-off. Westhill students held several “Play For Anna” signs, and the players wore blue ribbons on their warm-up shirts.
Such an event can drive a team in different directions. Either it loses its focus and plays poorly, or it has an increased determination to succeed.
“These kids are resilient,” said Westhill head coach Kevin King. “We talked about it, and I thought they could handle it.”
The Warriors did handle matters, especially on defense, where its man-to-man pressure kept Skaneateles from scoring a basket for the game’s first three-plus minutes, more than enough time to establish total control.