It turned out to be the best weekend possible for the Liverpool boys basketball team.
Not getting any rest after finishing a regular-season sweep of archrival Cicero-North Syracuse last Friday, the Warriors went to Utica and, through two hard-fought games that featured tremendous clutch play, captured its second straight title in the 40th annual Juggler Classic.
It all started with Saturday’s opening round, pitting Liverpool against Nazareth, from Brooklyn, ranked no. 5 in the state in Class A. The Warriors would need every bit of its late-game poise to prevail by a score of 51-50.
Down by one, 50-49, with 19 seconds left, Liverpool’s Mike Russo was fouled. Calmly, Russo made both of his free throws to give the Warriors a one-point edge.
Still, Nazareth had the last shot, and a chance to win. But Caleb Taylor blocked the potential go-ahead shot, the buzzer sounded and Liverpool held on.
Prior to that, Hector Oyola had accounted for much of the Warriors’ heroics. Trailing 16-11 after one period, Liverpool started to crawl back as Oyola kept getting open shots, and kept converting.
All told, Oyola had 25 points and 12 rebounds, and that, combined with stellar defense, helped the Warriors prevent Nazareth from pulling away and setting up the late drama.
Taylor, who had 20 points the night before against C-NS, had just one field goal, but more than made up for it with nine rebounds and his timely late block. Russo finished with eight points.
More drama was in store for Sunday’s championship game, where Liverpool took on Bishop Ford, also from Brooklyn, who had beaten host Utica-Notre Dame 59-57 in the other part of the opening round.
In keeping with the tournament theme, the final came down to playing well in the closing stages – and Liverpool was close to perfect, which resulted in a 53-47 victory over Ford.