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The Moriah boys' basketball team scrimmages at its practice Tuesday. The Vikings will face top-ranked New York Mills of Section III in the NYSPHSAA Class D semifinals today. Ben Rowe/P-R Photo)

Moriah meets No. 1 New York Mills in final four


PORT HENRY — While New York Mills has been to the boys’ basketball final four in four of the last five years and has three senior starters, Moriah plays four sophomores and hasn’t advanced this far since 2003.

But coach Brian Cross doesn’t think venturing into new territory will faze the Vikings.

“I think they’ll be fine,” Cross said. “Maybe it’s good that they’re so young. There really isn’t a lot of pressure on them. These kids play a ton of basketball all year long — AAU and stuff. And I don’t think it’s going to bother them that much.

“I’m sure they’ll be nervous before the game starts with all the people there, the setting. But once they throw the ball up, I’m sure they’ll react the same way they have all year.”

They Vikings and the Marauders will tip off this morning in the NYSPHSAA Class D semifinals at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The winner will play Sherman or Coleman Catholic in Saturday’s championship game.

As sophomore Taylor Slattery said, the Vikings (21-2) are used to towering over their opponents. That won’t be the case today.

New York Mills (21-1) is led by 6-foot-3-inch senior guard Nick Comenale, who averages 24.3 points per game. The team’s other main threat is 6-foot-5-inch forward Zach Vennaro, another senior. Vennaro had 20 points in the Marauders’ regional final win against Charlotte Valley and averages 13.1 along with 8.1 rebounds per night.

Three other players on the New York Mills roster are taller than 6 feet.

The Marauders, who play in Section III, don’t just pound the ball inside. They’ve hit 124 3-pointers this season, led by Comenale’s 58.

“I think they’ve got more size than most teams we’ve played this year. We’ve experienced the teams with quickness but not a lot of teams with a lot of size,” Cross said. “So I think they’re kind of like we are. They’ve got some size and some guards, so I think we match up well with them.

“They’ve got some kids that can play. But, you know, so do we.”

Moriah counters with 6-foot-6-inch sophomore center Adam Jaquish, the Northern Basketball League’s leading scorer with an 18.1 points-per-game average. Slattery, who stands 6 feet 4 inches, can shoot from the perimeter and handle the ball as well as score and rebound inside. He averages 8.9 points per contest.

Slattery and senior guard Tyler Pratt both said the key for Moriah is defense — as it has been throughout the playoffs. The Vikings’ opponents have averaged 43 points this season, but in five playoff games Moriah has allowed just 38.8 per contest. Madrid-Waddington scored the most — 41 — and still lost by 10 in last weekend’s regional finals.

“We know (New York Mills) is good — really good. We’re gonna play physical, but we gotta play great defense,” Pratt said. “Hand in face everywhere, follow them around everywhere. Just gotta D up.

“We’ve really gotta play well on the defensive and then execute on the offensive end, too. But defense is our priority right now.”

The third-ranked Vikings favor man-to-man but showed against Madrid-Waddington that they can play zone when they need to.

New York Mills’ only loss was to a Class B school, Norwich, and it has won 16 straight since. Moriah lost to Class B’s AuSable Valley and Class C’s Ticonderoga. The Marauders, who fell in the semifinals last year, are ranked No. 1 in class D.

Jaqiush said the Vikings may not be favored to win Friday, but that’s doesn’t bother them.

“We’ve always been underdogs in pretty much every sport we’ve played so far,” he said. “We’ve just learned to embrace it and go out and play.

“We just play our game. We don’t worry about who we play. Just go out and get it done.”

Email Courtney Lewis:clewis@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @sportsCourt