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Sweet Home deficit too big to overcome

Updated: 03/12/07 6:19 AM

ROCHESTER — The Sweet Home boys basketball team has now gone 50 games without a double-digit loss. Its season, however, is over.

Sweet Home fell behind early and spent the rest of the game fighting back only to fall, 57-53, to Fairport in Sunday’s Class AA Far West Regional.

A crowd of 2,664 in Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial watched Kyle Downey score 25 points, including two crucial baskets in the final minutes, while Mark Bruce hit two free throws with 9.7 seconds left to keep Sweet Home from making its second straight trip to Glens Falls.

“I just told the guys, ‘The scoreboard ran out of time, but we didn’t stop fighting,’ ” said Sweet Home coach Paul Schintzius. “We kept battling, and that’s been the trademark of these guys their entire career. We just dug ourselves a hole early.”

Sweet Home, which had an enrollment increase bump it up to Class AA this season, was attempting a second straight trip to Glens Falls after winning Class A last year. Instead, Fairport (21-3) will make its first trip to the final four and will take on Bishop Maginn of Section II (Albany) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Glens Falls Civic Center.

The closest Sweet Home (19-5) would get was 55-53 with 11 seconds left on two free throws by Terrell Rankin, who led the team with 25 points. With 9.7 seconds left, Bruce hit the first free throw, then waited through a timeout and hit the second for the final score.

Downey, a 6-foot-1 junior who is the younger brother of former Canisius College standout Kevin Downey, was 9 of 23 from the field and had nine rebounds. He had 18 points in the first half. Fairport led, 17-7, after one quarter and by as many as 15 before taking a 36-24 halftime lead — which came thanks to a Downey buzzer-beating three-pointer. Sweet Home entered the fourth trailing, 47-37, and was down by 13 (50-37) before its run.

“Basically, I told them, ‘You guys have been through 49 games, this is your 50th game and you haven’t lost by double figures, so if they think we’re going to go easy, they have something else coming to them,’ ” Schintzius said of his halftime speech. “We just willed our way back into it. Terrell kind of put us on his back.

“For us to step up from Class A and be the smallest AA in our area and get through [Niagara] Falls [in the AA final] and come in here and continue to battle, I can’t be upset.”

Rankin hit a three to cap a 10-0 run that made it 50-47 with 2:45 to play, but Downey was part of a momentum shift. Panthers 6-5 senior leader Glenroy Carr (11 points, eight rebounds) was called for his fifth foul for a bump well away from the basket with 2:25 to go. Then Downey cleared out Panther guard Eric Schnirel on a post-up basket that left Schnirel on the floor and Fairport up, 52-47, with 2:10 left.

A floater off the glass by Schnirel brought Sweet Home to within 52-49 with 1:10 left, but Downey nailed a straightaway three with 50 seconds left.

“He seems to come through every time,” said Fairport coach Scott Fitch. “We want him taking the big shots, and that big three was a dagger.”