Sports Editor’s Playbook, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

Patrick Newell

- If any team has flown under the radar more than Sherburne-Earlville’s girls’ basketball team over the past four years, we’d like to know about it. Our neighbors to to the north moved out of Section IV and into Section III nearly a decade ago. When it left, the school’s most consistent winning program was its baseball team. The baseball team has continued to win, but other schools have since joined the Marauders’ diamond men as steady winning clubs, specifically the varsity girls hoops team.
A decade ago, the S-E girls were still looking for their first above-.500 record. Since the 2007-2008 season, the Marauders’ overall record stands up with the best in Chenango County. Count S-E – and Norwich’s boys – as the only basketball teams over the past four years to win at least 15 games. During that stretch, the Marauders have amassed 65 wins and 17 losses for a neat 79.3 percent winning percentage. Last night in Waterville, Sherburne-Earlville closed out a second straight Center State Conference Division II championship. Congratulations to the maroon-clad S-E girls, who have helped turn around a basketball program that once floundered at or near the bottom of the standings for decades.

- Jim Johnson and Bob Conway used to coach against each other, typically twice a season in the Tri-Valley League. Johnson led Gilbertsville, while Conway headed up the Mounties of Mt. Upton. Those clashes took place mostly in the 1980s, and each mentor delivered winning season after winning season for their respective programs. Over two decades later, each coach has subsequently passed 400 career wins – the only active local coaches with that many victories – and the two sideline heads are again in charge of a group of ladies that will play for league championships Saturday at SUNY Oneonta.
Johnson has his club in position to win the T-V title for the first time since 2006, while Conway has B-G in position to win its fourth Midstate Athletic Conference title in 10 years. Before that, Conway won a pair of Susquenango Association titles, and we’re sure he had Mt. Upton on top – at least one time – in the Tri-Valley League.
Johnson has won his share of T-V league titles as well, and despite 32 years on the bench, Johnson still has the passion, the energy, and enthusiasm of a young coach. He is as excited as the girls playing for him, and surprisingly, despite all of his experience, is not completely calm and collected. “Heck yeah, I’m already shaking,” Johnson said when asked if he still has some nervousness. “I’m the one who is supposedly in control, and I don’t want to make the mistake that makes us lose the game. You try to convey (to the team) what you think is best for them in a particular game. Sometimes that’s why teams win or lose.”
Fortunately for Johnson, he has a group of girls that got used to winning in the fall when most of this year’s team members played on the Section IV Class D soccer finalist. The Raiders are also a close-knit group, too, and fun to coach, Johnson said. “This is a nice group of kids, one of the best,” Johnson said. “They came together during the soccer season, and it just carried on from there. I have to give the soccer team credit for getting that good team feeling going.”

- Frankie Garcia’s second straight loss in the finals of the Section IV Wrestling Tournament was one of more emotional defeats last Saturday night, especially for Norwich fans. Garcia ran into two-time state place-winner Corey Dake of Lansing, and dropped a 3-0 decision. Garcia, though, is one of seven Section IV Division II wrestlers who earned a second chance as an at-large bid to the state tournament in Albany next weekend.
Garcia, who has around 70 career wins and just a handful of losses, met the criteria for a wild-card pick, and just squeaked in as the last selection in the 119-pound division. Norwich coach Joe Downey was notified of Garcia’s bid earlier this week, and immediately called Garcia – who was in a morning class – to give him the news. “It was like Christmas,” Downey said of the good news. “Frankie was ecstatic about it, and I called his dad, and his dad was ecstatic.”
As the last guy to make the tournament bracket, it is likely Garcia will draw a tough assignment, perhaps one of the top one or two seeds in the tournament. Nonetheless, Downey is not worried about his eighth-grader. “He’ll do just fine up there, and it doesn’t matter who he wrestles,” the coach said. “He’s got as much a chance as anyone else up there. There are quite a few tough guys in his weight class, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. Everyone starts that tournament with a 0-0 record. Frankie’s there, it’s a new ballgame, and he doesn’t care who he faces.”

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @evesunpat