Haight powers Fredonia to Final 4
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article appeared in The Post-Journal on March 13, 1994, the day after the Fredonia boys basketball team held of Section V’s Ben Franklin in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B Far West Regional. Throughout the week, the OBSERVER is running the Hillbillies’ playoff push, which will be capped by their appearance at the final four in Glens Falls.
AMHERST — Mike Heary, the Navy-bound senior, may be the best basketball player in Western New York this season.
But he’ll be the first to tell you the Fredonia Hillbillies’ Most Valuable Player in the postseason is a guy who won’t be continuing his roundball career beyond high school.
“People talk about me always being there, but Mike Haight has stepped it up 10 times what he’s done during the year,” Heary said.
And it’s because of Haight, who will play college baseball next season, that the Hillbillies will be packing their bags next week for Glens Falls and a trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tournament.
The 6-foot guard poured in 34 points Saturday and carried Fredonia until Heary could get untracked, lifting the Hillbillies (20-6), ranked 17th in the state, to a thrilling 78-73 overtime victory over No. 7 Ben Franklin (22-3) of Section VI in the NYSPHSAA Class B Far West Regional inside the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena.
The Hillbillies are the first Chautauqua County boys team to ever advance to the Final Four and the first Class B team from Section VI to reach the semifinals since Lackawanna did it in 1989. They will play an undermined opponent in the state semifinals Saturday at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“These kids have proven time and time again that you can never count them out,” Fredonia coach Dave Polechetti said. “Their hearts are so big. … Sometimes the most talented players are not the best basketball players and don’t always win the biggest games. You need good basketball players and you need kids with big hearts.”
And Saturday, none were bigger than Haight’s.
Haight, who will play baseball at the College of Charleston in the fall, connected on 14 of 23 shots, including five 3-pointers. Twenty-four of his points came in the first three quarters when Heary struggled mightily against the Quakers, who were doing everything in their power to stop WNY’s No. 3 all-time scorer.
In fact, Haight scored twice as many points in the third quarter (12) as Heary had in the game to that point (6).
Still, Fredonia trailed by only three points, 45-42, entering the final period.
“In the first half, I couldn’t do anything. I mean nothing,” said Heary, who scored 20 points in the game’s final 11 minutes. “That’s a credit to (Ben Franklin’s) Marlin Johnson. … But someone told me they can only hold me for so long.”
In the fourth quarter, Heary exploded after moving from the low post to the perimeter.
A drive across the lane resulted in a three-point play with 6:16 remaining and seemed to awaken the 6-5 senior. He scored the next five points to pull the Hillbillies to within a point, 50-49. He finished the period with 10.
“The matchup (against the 6-4 Johnson and Robert Stevenson, a 6-8 center) was a tough one for Michael,” Polechetti said. “That’s why we made the adjustment, bringing Michael out on the perimeter, hopefully to give him an opportunity to take advantage of his shooting and give him some freedom and room to maneuver.
Of course, Haight continued to be deadly from the outside. His two 3-pointers, sandwiched around a Heary trey, gave Fredonia a 62-57 lead with just over three minutes remaining.
But the Quakers didn’t quit.
Johnson’s two jumpers — he finished with 14 points — pulled them to within 62-61, turning the final three minutes into a free throw shooting contest and a tactical chess match.
Two free throws by sophomore Brian Mierzwa extended Fredonia’s lead to 64-61, but Melvin James (17 points) scored on a drive and Derrick Porter (10 points) hit a free throw to tie the game, 64-all, with 1:41 left.
The Hillbillies then ran the clock down until Heary, who hit on just 7 of 25 shots, drove the lane for a layup at the 15-second mark to put Fredonia on top, 66-64.
Ben Franklin pushed the ball up court where Trenton Jackson (18 points) fired up a jumper that bounced high off the rim, but Johnson eventually came down with the rebound and scored on a layup at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
“It was all my fault,” Heary said. “My assignment all night was to box out Robert and I didn’t do a good job on that play. I just felt I let my team down for the second time in the playoffs.”
But unlike the Section VI championship game — he fouled out midway through the fourth quarter — Heary was there in the overtime to help lead his team to victory.
He and Haight each connected on layups to push Fredonia’s lead to 70-66 one minute into overtime and then Heary put the game away at the foul line, connecting on all six of his free throws — he was 11 of 11 for the game — in the extra session.
The Quakers made it interesting in the final minute when James drilled a 3-pointer, cutting the Hillbillies’ lead to 76-73, but Ryan LaMattina sealed the victory with two free throws with 19 seconds left.
The celebration was on.
“We had a dream that hopefully at some point that they could eventually make (the Final Four),” Polechetti said.
The dream has been fulfilled.