The Oswego State Lakers men’s basketball team’s joyful season came to an abrupt end on March 3 with an 82-77 overtime loss to the University of Scranton Royals in the first round of the Div. III NCAA Tournament.
It was a game the Lakers seemed to have in their control, leading by 13 at halftime, and stretching it to their largest lead of 19 in the opening minutes of the second half. Brian Sortino’s three-pointer with five seconds left in the first half brought him up to 10 points and a Laker 35-22 lead at the break.
However, the Royals did not seem to panic and stuck to their dynamic interior offense with John Vitkus and Drew Schankweiler. Vitkus led the Royals in scoring with 26 points on 9-14 shooting, grabbing seven boards as well. Ethan Danzig was the key contributor from the perimeter for the Royals, scoring 18 points with three triples and 13 rebounds.
The Royals slowly chipped away at the Lakers double-digit leads and took their first lead of the second half at 67-66 with 2:15 remaining.
The Royals had the ball in their possession with less than a minute to go up 70-68, but Sortino’s steal-and-score knotted it up 70-70 with 48 seconds left.
Sortino got the last shot of the game as the Royals failed to take the lead, but his jumper would bounce off left to go into overtime.
The Royals had it going for them in overtime unlike the Lakers. With Mykelle Krecko and Tyler Pierre fouling out, they were out of options and answers for the big man Vitkus. The free throws went down for Scranton in the final stretch as they would advance once again with an 82-77 victory.
In Sortino’s last game as a Laker, he scored 27 points to lead all scorers, an end to another tremendous playoff run for one of the all-time great Lakers to play in the program.
Tyson finished his last game as a Laker with 17 points and seven rebounds and Krecko scored eight points to go along with a monster 17-rebound performance.
“I’m very proud of our guys, we’ve had probably the most successful run in our programs history under this senior class,” head coach Jason Leone said. “Couldn’t be more proud of a group. They have been resilient.”
Sortino leaves quite the stamp on the men’s basketball program with a highly decorated resume that includes being a two-time SUNYAC Champion and getting named tournament MVP in both. In his 105 games in a Laker uniform, the four-year starting guard Sortino averaged 18.9 points per game for his career, and finished this final season averaging 21.8 points per game.
“Just hanging around the guys every day, we have a great group of guys,” Sortino said. “Coach recruits well, we love everyone, definitely going to miss being around everyone every single day.”
Sortino eclipsed his career-high in point-total set in last year’s NCAA Tournament of 39 points with a 48-point performance in the overtime victory against Buffalo State in this seasons SUNYAC semifinals. Needless to say Sortino will be missed by the Laker community, his teammates, and coaching staff for the tremendous amount time and work he has put in as a student athlete at Oswego State these past four years.
Leone was emotional following the loss to Scranton as he discussed what it was like coaching Sortino.
“I enjoyed my time with Brian, he’s a special guy,” Leone said. “Yeah he’s one of the greats, that’s for other people to decide, I just know I wouldn’t trade him.”
Sortino was named this season’s SUNYAC Player of the Year. Leone took home the SUNYAC Coach of the Year award for the third time.
The Oswego State Lakers finished the season 21-7 overall and they were the only team to represent the SUNYAC in the NCAA Tournament.
Plenty of shoes are left to be filled with the senior class going out the door, but the supporting cast and new Laker faces this season proved they will be able to do so.
Guards Ian Schupp and Jamir Ferebee will be entering next season as seniors as they both nearly averaged the same points per game with Schupp at 12.3 and Ferebee with 12.5 this season. Schupp transferred out from Oswego State his freshman season and then proceeded to transfer back this season from SUNY Oneonta, the team the Lakers defeated in the SUNYAC Championship.
Schupp showed a consistent role all season and started to explode towards the end of the season with a career-high 31-point performance against the College at Brockport in the regular season finale. In the SUNYAC Championship Final against his former team, Schupp scored 22 points, nailing four shots from the arc. His SUNYAC tournament performances earned him a spot on the All-Tournament team.
Ferebee was a transfer this season and displayed consistency despite having to adjust to Leone’s system. Ferebee scored season highs of 21 points against SUNY Cortland and SUNY Potsdam, right in the middle of his and the team’s hot-streak in the SUNYAC.
“We’re very optimistic about the future, we’re sure we can get back to this level again,” Ferebee said. “We just got to work hard, everyone is going to come back better than we were this year.”
In his sophomore season, the 6’6 Tyler Pierre got some decent minutes off the bench behind Krecko. As the season progressed, his minutes increased to the point where he was splitting time down low. Pierre was also named to the SUNYAC Championship All-Tournament team for his rebounding ability as he grabbed 15 rebounds, eight offensively in the final.
Leone’s recruiting and coaching has built a winning culture as the Lakers have won three SUNYAC Championships in the last six seasons, including three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.
The Sortino-era may be over, but the door is still open for new Lakers to shine and lead the program back to where they have been.