Bob VanValkenburgh has no gray hair.
Of course, he's never led South Kortright's boys basketball team to the state semifinals before.
"It's been a lot of years," VanValkenburgh said of his Rams qualifying for the state semis for the first time in his 26 years of coaching. "I've been going up to the tournament ever since I started coaching, so it will be a little different going up as a coach. I'm just real proud of the kids."
His "kids" simply took over last Saturday at Hartwick College's Lambros Arena, which squeezed roughly 1,200 fans into its renovated digs and turned away several others for SK's Class D state quarterfinal against Section Three champion New York Mills.
The Rams hadn't been that far since the 1999-2000 season, when they followed their first Section Four championship in 23 years with a 74-68 state-quarterfinal overtime loss to Hamilton at Le Moyne College.
"It feels good," junior reserve swingman Rashawn Herrington said of winning the quarterfinal, 56-45. "Making it to this game was a good feeling, but winning it and making it to Glens Falls is a good feeling, too."
The Rams may feel a little differently once they get up to the Glens Falls Civic Center, where they'll open against the defending Class D state champion and could possibly face the 2008 Class C champion in the final.
SK plays Section 10's Chateaugay (22-4) at 11:45 a.m. Friday in the second of two Class D state semifinals. Chateaugay enters the semifinals as the state's fifth-ranked team in Class D, two spots behind the Section Four champion Rams (24-0). According to the New York State Sportswriters Association rankings for boys basketball, SK is one of two undefeated teams in the state. The other is Niagara Falls, which is 23-0 and ranked first among Class AA teams in the state.
Section 11's Greenport (21-3) and Maple Grove (21-3) of Section Six open the Class D state semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday. Maple Grove won the Class C state championship last season.
Semifinal winners advance to the state championship game, slated for 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Glens Falls. Tickets cost $10.
"I think the kids will be relaxed," said VanValkenburgh, whose team has a chance to become the first Section Four Class D state champion in history this weekend. "It's just a great experience for the kids. I don't think we'll be intimidated because we've kept a good focus all year."
The Rams certainly zeroed in on stopping the inside game of New York Mills last Saturday. Despite the presence of 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore center Fred Russ, 6-4 sophomore forward Jeff Albright and 6-7 freshman reserve Matt Welch, the Marauders did little damage in the paint. Those three, who rarely got past the three-man wall of defenders in SK's 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones, combined for eight points against SK.
"They were big," senior point guard Eric Burns said of Mills. "We've never seen a team that big before. We worked on that all week, getting the ball away from (Russ). He's been scoring a lot of points and we limited him tonight. That was big motivation."
VanValkenburgh said earlier in the week that he had little time to find out much about the Bulldogs. That said, he likely knows by now that senior guard Drew Boyea is their go-to player. Boyea, the son of Chateaugay coach Ron Boyea, is a 1,000-point varsity scorer who is averaging 21.2 points this season.
The Bulldogs take a modest two-game winning streak into the state semis. After winning the Section 10 Class D title as the No. 1 seed, they lost to Class A's Massena, 52-33, in the section's overall playoffs for all class champions.
Chateaugay followed with two regional games in the state tournament, beating Section Two's Sharon Springs, 61-51, and Section Seven's Westport, 75-71, in overtime.
Boyea scored 15 points against Westport, which blew a 19-point lead in the third quarter. Chateaugay, which won with the help of an 8-0 run in overtime, also received a team-best 20 points from senior Brad Spinner (12.4 points per game), 18 from junior Alex Stalter (8.9 ppg) and 11 from junior Eli Franze (5.1).
The Bulldogs rallied to beat Sharon Springs, too, turning a 17-6 deficit into a 17-point fourth-quarter lead en route to the win. Boyea scored 25 of his varsity-high 31 points in the second half, and Spinner finished with 18 points.
So, Chateaugay seems to have balance that rivals that of SK, which got four scoring performances of eight points ot better against Mills. It's pretty much been like that all season, too. Burns averages 11.3 points, senior forward Kyle Hotaling is at 10.6 points per game and Herrington's at 10.1. Additionally, SK gets 7.6 ppg from senior center Dan Many, 6.7 from junior guard Tanner Metzko, 5.9 from junior forward Charlie Darling and 5.4 from senior forward Josh Palmatier. All seven of SK's regulars have scored in double figures at least once this season, too.
"I just know they play hard and they play very good defense," VanValkenburgh said. "We've been getting more transition baskets, we just need to find somebody who can shoot that outside jumper. I like this team, though. Whatever happens, happens."
And whatever happens, it will be on the biggest stage the state has to offer.
"You run into the best in the state," VanValkenburgh said. "You've got to be fortunate, you've got to have a little luck and you've got to play some of your best games of the year."
Herrington, in particular, has elevated his play over the past two games. He finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor against Laurens in the sectional final, then scored a game-high 17 on 7-for-10 efficiency from the field against Mills in the state quarterfinal.
Herrington dunked in both games, too, but his best highlights came as a defender. If he didn't steal the ball at the top of SK's zone, his blanketing defense either forced turnovers or brought offensive sets to a screeching halt.
"I'm focused on winning," said Herrington, who is featured in a dunk-contest video on YouTube and will be playing in front of a crowd that's sure to include several college scouts. "I'm not out to get a college scholarship for myself. I'm focused on the team aspect. If (a scholarship) happens, it happens. But all together, I want to win and so does the team, and I'll do what it takes for the team to win."
Dean Russin can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.
South Kortright's Streak
Results from the 24-0 South Kortright boys basketball team's 2008-09 schedule.
Class D State Championship
March 21 at Glens Falls
Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m.
Class D State Semifinals
March 20 at Glens Falls
Maple Grove vs. Greenport, 10 a.m.
South Kortright vs. Chateaugay, 11:45 a.m.
Class D State Quarterfinal
at Hartwick College
W24 March 14 vs. NY Mills56-45
Section Four Class D Final
at Broome County Arena
W23 March 7 vs. Laurens50-45
Section Four Class D Semifinal
at Hartwick College
W23March 4 vs. H-T50-36
Section Four Class D Quarterfinal at South Kortright
W21Feb. 20 vs. CV-S59-23
Delaware League Championship
at SUNY Delhi
W20Feb. 20 vs. H-T53-35
2008-2009 Regular Season
W18Feb. 12at Gilboa53-30
W13Jan. 16at Andes60-40
W11Jan. 13at Roxbury55-51
W10Jan. 8at Stamford58-37
W6Dec. 17at Downsville79-35
W5Dec. 9at Jefferson55-35
W3Dec. 3at Windham73-35
t2-Pat Grasso Tournament at Laurens
t1-SK Thanksgiving Tournament.