BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — A day after his team advanced to today’s Section II Class AA boys’ basketball semifinals with a 52-50 win against Bethlehem, Catholic Central head coach Chuck Mack promised his team will use its normal frenetic style when it meets Shenendehowa at the Times Union Center in Albany.
His squad, essentially a team of undersized players revolving around 6-foot-5 junior star Anthony Mack, has little choice.
“If anyone wants to trade us a 6-foot-8 guy over the next 24 hours, we might have different plans,” Chuck Mack said Sunday, laughing.
Besides the coach’s son — who has scored at least 31 points five times this season — the members of the Crusaders’ roster all hover around 6-foot tall. Meanwhile, Shenendehowa’s primary seven-man rotation includes five players standing at least 6-foot-3, including the team’s own 6-foot-5 junior star in guard Kevin Huerter, who is coming off a near triple-double with 24 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in the Plainsmen’s 79-47 win Saturday against Schenectady.
That sets up a contrast in styles between the two squads playing in the first half of tonight’s doubleheader. Either the Crusaders or Plainsmen get the winner of Green Tech vs. Guilderland, a rematch of last year’s championship game, and whose style wins out between Catholic Central (14-7) and Shenendehowa (20-0) will determine which squad gets a shot at this year’s title.
The difference between the clubs will manifest itself most clearly when Catholic Central is attacking the Shenendehowa 3-2 zone defense. Anthony Mack, likely the best inside-outside scoring threat in Section II, will be the focus for the Plainsmen, and Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas said his club will use every bit of its height — and bulk — to keep the Crusaders’ star from getting to at least one of his sweet spots.
“Against Bethlehem, where did he do his work? He did it in the paint,” said Dzikas. “He hit a couple of 25-footers, but that’s not what hurt Bethlehem; what hurt Bethlehem was when he got it on the low block.”
Defense has rarely been an issue for the Plainsmen this season. The club entered sectionals allowing only 38.9 points per game, a number the squad lowered after its win against Schenectady in the quarterfinals. Junior guard Petar Bebic said the Plainsmen will be up to their usual tricks when they take on Catholic Central.
“We might press, we might fall back, or show our press and fall back,” said Bebic. “We’re going to try to confuse them.”
Chuck Mack’s squad has mostly used a man-to-man defense this season. He said it is possible his club could use some zone against the Plainsmen, but that Shenendehowa’s potent one-two punch of brothers Kevin Huerter and senior guard Thomas Huerter make getting too gimmicky not an option for the Crusaders.
“The tough thing about Shenendehowa — and why I think they’re the best team in Section II — is they’re not only athletic, but they’re so fundamentally sound,” Chuck Mack said.
The Plainsmen are looking to get past Catholic Central so they can get a proper chance to stake their claim as the area’s top team in a championship game. After losing to Green Tech in last year’s semifinals, Bebic said his club expects to start fast against Catholic Central.
“We’ll be ready,” Bebic said.