MANLIUS – Sterling Newman Central Catholic is the new Minonk Fieldcrest or, if you’d rather, the new Varna Midland.
Newman has become a roadblock to Seneca’s path through the boys basketball state series, the way Fieldcrest was when it bounced the Fighting Irish in both 2008 and 2010. Until Wednesday, nobody had eliminated the Irish in two straight seasons since Midland did so in 2001 and 2002.
Like Fieldcrest, which defeated the Irish 66-47 in a 2008 regional final and 57-34 in a 2010 regional semi, Newman won by comfortable margins in its elimination wins over them. The final scores of its victories, which both came in sectional semifinals, were 45-27 in 2013 and 53-39 in 2014.
The scores were somewhat similar, but the stories were a bit different in the games between Newman and Seneca. Last year at Byron, illness was ravaging the Irish, and they couldn’t hit a shot, going 2-for-16 from beyond the 3-point arc.
One constant between the two games was that Irish guard Conlan Callahan was kept quiet both times. A noticeably under-the-weather Callahan was held without a field goal by Newman in 2013. Wednesday, he hit a pair of 3-pointers but was otherwise kept in check.
Newman coach Ray Sharp said the Comets have a goal of holding each team’s leading scorer to 10 points or fewer.
“Callahan for sure,” Sharp said when I asked what specifically the Comets had tried to take away from the Irish. “Right away, don’t let him catch it. If he does catch it, if he puts it on the floor, we’re doubling. He’s such a great player, we had to get it out of his hands, and to make the other guys beat you.”
Two Seneca players in particular took some advantage of Newman’s devotion to stopping Callahan. Guard Alex Bott needed just over 11 minutes to score nine points. He finished with 12. And after a scoreless first half, forward Alex Applebee went wild in the third quarter, scoring nine points. He finished with 13.
One aspect of Applebee’s line – his 3-for-3 night at the foul line – underlined a huge problem for the Irish. It wasn’t that Applebee made all of his attempts; that was certainly good. But his were the only three free-throws Seneca attempted. Newman made all 14 of its free throws.
Noah McCarty, a 6-foot-7 Newman sophomore who blocked five shots, was a big reason the Irish didn’t get to the foul line, according to their coach, Russell Witte.
“It wasn’t for a lack of trying to get to the rim,” Witte said. “When you try to get to the rim with a kid who blocks a lot of shots ... that kinda deters you from wanting to take it in a little bit harder – he’s back there.”
McCarty’s impact was not limited to the defensive end. His 16 points were a game high. Twelve of them came in the first half.
“We match up pretty well at every position except the one tell-tale position – that’s the big sophomore inside,” Witte said. “McCarty, he’s a beast, and he’s still gonna get bigger. We tried fronting him. We let him get a few touches early on, and when you gotta double down, now it opens up your kickers on the outside, opens up shooters on the outside.”
I referenced Midland and Fieldcrest earlier, and how they’d in past years been an Achilles’ Heel to the Irish like Newman is today. There’s one big difference. None of those Seneca teams from yesteryear had advanced beyond the regional round. Both of the past two Seneca teams have, and they’ve won 49 games in total.
“We got 10 seniors that played for four years of high-school basketball. That’s amazing,” Witte said. “For some of ’em, they don’t hardly set foot on the floor, and so now they’re playing four years of just being scout ‘O,’ scout ‘D,’ and just working really hard. Well, this is the reward they get – 24-6.”