Column: The madness of March can be cruel

From my couch 240 miles away from Binghamton, my heart pounded with anticipation Saturday. I spent several years at the beginning of my career covering sports, and few games I’ve ever witnessed could match what was unfolding at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.

Not one overtime.

Not two overtimes.

Three overtimes!

The boys basketball Class C semifinal game between the hometown Porters and Cooperstown became an instant classic once the final buzzer sounded, a game people will talk about at the state tournament years from now.

Remember that time the kid on Cooperstown scored 53 in that triple overtime game?

But sports can be cruel. That’s what makes the thrill of winning such a rush. And this time, after all the points, after all the drama, after all the highlight plays, it was the Porters on the short end of an otherwise thrilling game. Cooperstown 108, Greenport 98.

At one point during overtime, a co-worker texted me about how wild the Greenport game was. It was great to be able to follow so closely from afar, thanks to the efforts of Kevin Webster, who streamed the game through his Webster Sports Network to hundreds of Greenport fans. And our sports editor, Bob Liepa, was there courtside, typing up live updates and commentary on Twitter. There’s no greater time than March for basketball fans, and to have a local high school team advance so far into the state tournament only added to the excitement. As expected, the Greenport community rallied around their team and the support was overwhelming, from the fire department escort early Friday morning to the sea of purple in the stands Saturday morning in Binghamton.

There are just over 150 teams across New York in Class C and to be one of the last four standing is no small feat. It’s worth remembering just how difficult it is to win a state title in basketball, perhaps the most difficult accomplishment for any team sport in New York. Consider this year, no Long Island teams won state titles, and the quality of the teams in each classification was outstanding: Brentwood in Class AA, Center Moriches in Class B, for example.

Moments after the Porters’ game ended Saturday, my attention shifted to the next big moment of March: college basketball conference tournaments. At 1 p.m., I tuned into CBS Sports Network to watch my alma mater, St. Bonaventure, play against the University of Rhode Island in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

I quickly regrouped from the disappointment of the Porters loss to begin cheering for the next big game. And two hours later, I was all smiles as St. Bona came from 15 points down to win and advance into Sunday’s championship. With a few minutes left in the game, and a win all but assured, I texted my wife at work to plead my case for going into Brooklyn the next day for the championship game.

Sunday happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, the biggest day of the year for my Irish wife.

But she knows how much I love basketball, so she agreed to take an early-morning train into Barclays Center, throw on a St. Bona sweatshirt and cheer alongside me.

Up for grabs was a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

We got to Barclays Center and found a sea of brown and white in support of St. Bona. I was at home.

Everything started perfectly, as the Bonnies jumped out to a 15-point lead. I could already picture myself watching them in the NCAA Tournament a few days later.

But as I said earlier, sports can be cruel.

The lead in the second half slowly disappeared, and suddenly with three minutes to go, the team trailed by eight.

Just when it seemed over, a quick rally and a 3-pointer with under a minute to go made it a two-point game. The crowd was delirious.

Finally, one possession was left. After two missed shots, the ball swung into the corner to a player who had just checked in due to a starter fouling out. He caught the ball with four seconds left, down by two. He shot an open three-pointer, his only shot of the game, for the win. I leaned forward against the railing, as the ball seemingly hung in the air forever, ready to jump in excitement.

The ball hit off the back of the rim, and just like that, the season was over.

Talk about a swing of emotions. Sports can be a gut punch at times.

As the NCAA Tournament begins in full Thursday, I’ll be back in front of the TV, computer and phone watching all the action. I won’t have any rooting interest any more this month, only for a bracket that will likely be busted by Saturday.

Photo caption: Jaxan Swann goes to the basket for Greenport. (Credit: Jeff Miller)

The author is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].