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Saranac Lake drops Shamrocks to finish unbeaten

Red Storm senior James Catania delivers a bounce pass in front of Salmon River's Patrick Ghostlaw in the second quarter of Friday's game. Catania finished the season averaging 11 rebounds per game. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — You can wonder about the could’ves and would’ves. You can lament about there being no opportunity to compete for a sectional championship or no chance at being selected as a league all-star.

One thing, however, that did happen during a basketball season altered and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic was that the Saranac Lake High School boys varsity team finished with an unbeaten record.

On Friday, the Red Storm wrapped up a month-long season with a 7-0 record when they topped Salmon River by a 53-33 score.

In his last time competing in a Saranac Lake basketball uniform, senior point guard Brady Yando paved the way with a game-high 22 points, including five successful three-pointers. Sophomore Landon Faubert was next in scoring for the Red Storm with 11 points, and junior Nate McCarthy tossed in eight points.

In all seven games, Saranac Lake posted double-digit victories, with the closet contest being a 15-point win over the Shamrocks when the teams met for the first time on Tuesday.

Saranac Lake's Nate McCarthy and Salmon River's Lane Oakes chase a loose ball during action Friday on the Red Storm's court. McCarthy, a junior, had a pair of 37-point performances during his team's 7-0 season. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Although Saranac Lake didn’t get the chance to play a normal Champlain Valley Athletic Conference schedule that includes matchups against the league’s traditional successful programs, the Red Storm still made history with a perfect run.

“We didn’t even know if we would be playing one game,” head coach Dermott Morgan said. “Six weeks ago when they threw it at us that we’d most likely be able to play, our kids were so excited. They certainly made the most out of their opportunity.”

“We were told that Saranac Lake has never gone unbeaten,” Yando said. “It was definitely hard knowing that we weren’t going play a full 16-game schedule and not have a chance to play for a sectional championship. I think we could have made a great run, but I’m really happy with how things turned out. It was just crazy going undefeated in my senior year. It was historic.”

During recent seasons, the Red Storm has finished near the bottom of the CVAC standings, and despite a playing a limited schedule that featured two games each against Salmon River, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, and a single matchup against Bruston Moira, Morgan believes this season’s squad is the one that has paved the way for a big turnaround for Saranac Lake’s boys program.

“It’s been a long, long time since Saranac Lake has been on the positive side of a winning record,” Morgan said. “We knew we had a good team when we started; maybe we’d go 5-2, 6-1. After our first two wins, you could really see how confident our kids had become. We had a good system, we had good basketball players, and they just took it and ran with it.

Members of the Saranac Lake boys undefeated 2021 varsity basketball team gather for a photo at center court in the high school gym. From the left are coach Daryl Crist, players Brady Yando, Landon Faubert, Carter Hewitt, Nate McCarthy, Brady Roberts, James Catania, Jonathan Zalewski, Gabe Wilson and Raymond Santiago and coaches Kevin McCarthy and Dermott Morgan. (Provided photo)

“If it was a normal year, I think we’d be looking at 10, 11, 12 wins,” Morgan continued. “I think Saranac Lake’s last sectional championship was in 1998, and I think our kids could have been the ones to do it this season.”

Yando, James Catania and Jonathan Zalewski were Saranac Lake’s three freshman who played key roles in the team’s success, and Morgan expects underclassmen like McCarthy and Faubert and Gabe Wilson to lead the way to another strong showing in what will hopefully be a full slate of games next season.

Morgan said this year was a combination of getting his seniors an opportunity to compete and building for the future.

“When the season started, I told my seniors this is your chance to help the younger guys get ready for the future,” Morgan said. “They knew they weren’t going to be playing for a sectional championship, but they also knew that they would be involved in laying a foundation that could turn this program around to being a perennial power.

“Yando and Catania are the type of players who can’t be replaced,” Morgan continued. “They’ve been there since seventh-grade, but the pipeline is established, and I’m excited to see some of the younger kids coming up. We’ve got some good ones.”

Morgan credited a youth program established five years ago for laying the groundwork for a bright basketball future at Saranac Lake. He said this year’s assistant coaches — Daryl Crist and Kevin McCarthy, girls head coach Chad LaDue and Joe Akey, a former coach who is now a state trooper, were four of the key figures in leading the drive to turn the hoops fortunes around in the community.

“Those were the guys whose kids are coming up, and they came to me and told me, ‘We want to build the youth program up for you.’ The guys on this year’s team, they have all been a part of that.

Morgan said this season, the youth program started in October and has run every week with between 40 and 50 youngsters up through seventh grade participating.

“I expect Saranac Lake is going to be strong for years to come, and it’s because of those coaches,” Morgan said. “I think we’re all pretty thankful for their dedication.”

“I’ve even learned new things from our coaches this year,” Yando said. “Just getting the ball and bringing it to your hip right away to prevent a steal, things like that all add up to being a good player.

“This season, I think our team did a great job pushing the ball up the court,” he added. “We were working out before the season, we stayed in shape, and I think that really showed late in our games. We wore our opponents down.”

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