Thirty-five years ago, the Bishop Cunningham High School varsity boys basketball team made a miraculous run to the Class D state championship.
The Crusaders, who played their home games at the school’s St. Francis Hall in Oswego, edged Long Island’s Bridgehampton 69-67 in double overtime in the 1985 state title game at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“It was a feat very few believed could ever happen in this non-basketball region of Oswego County,” Coach Chuck Bisesi said in a March 28, 1985 article in The Palladium-Times.
Players on the team included Denny Nicholson, Kevin Broderick, Jeff Baker, Stan Wegzyn, Dan Geers, Eric Croucher, Mike Sheldon, Dan Whitehead, Dave Gorman, Mark Croucher, Mike Cahill, and Dan Broderick.
Kevin Broderick and Baker were later named the state small schools co-players of the year. Kevin Broderick went on to play basketball at Nazareth, and later to a coaching career that included guiding the Oswego State Lakers and currently the Nazareth Golden Flyers.
In a telephone interview Sunday, Broderick gave much of the credit for the state championship to Coach Bisesi and to Baker, the team’s senior leader and top scorer.
“Coach Bisesi was an unbelievable competitor,” Broderick said. “We were a very intense, competitive team, and he instilled that in us. We knew how to win.”
Broderick also spoke highly of Baker, who died of cancer in 2016.
“Jeff Baker was unquestionably our leader and best player. He was a great player and a clutch performer,” Broderick said. “I think his confidence was contagious.”
During the basketball season, there was some question as to whether or not BCHS would continue to operate the next school year. The Syracuse Diocese had mandated that 200 students be enrolled for September 1985. Many observers felt that the boys basketball team’s success captivated the public and helped drive enrollment over the 200 mark to satisfy that requirement.
Pall-Times Sports Writer Jim Terramiggi chronicled the Crusaders’ path to the title every step of the way.
Here’s a look at Bishop Cunningham’s run to the state championship.
From Feb. 20, 1985 Pall-Times
B.C. 62, West Canada 61: Bishop Cunningham finished the regular season with an 18-2 record, matching the mark posted by Brookfield. The Crusaders got the top seed for the Section III Class D playoffs by virtue of a coin flip.
Against West Canada, B.C. rallied from a seven-point deficit late in the fourth quarter and won at the buzzer at St. Francis Hall.
Wegzyn, a 6-4 junior, picked up a loose ball under his own basket and shot it in off the backboard to win it for the Crusaders.
“I just positioned myself for the rebound under the basket and when it came down it hit off Kevin (Broderick) and off their guy. I grabbed it and put it in,” Wegzyn was quoted as saying.
West Canada led 61-56 with 2:13 left and was still up 61-58 with 1:24 to go.
“Coach really had us turn up the pressure. We probably got away with some fouls, we were playing so recklessly,” Broderick said. “The last thing I wanted to do was turn my jersey in and be done the next day.”
West Canada was in a stall when Nicholson stole the ball and made a layup to make it 61-60 with 1:08 left. The Crusaders twice committed fouls to send West Canada to the line for 1-and-1 situations, and both times the opponents missed the front end, leaving the door open for a comeback win. The Crusaders played for the final shot. Although Kevin Broderick missed a short jumper, Wegzyn converted on the putback to win it.
Kevin Broderick finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and four steals for B.C. Other leaders were Nicholson (18 points, 5 steals) and Baker (14 points, 5 rebounds).
West Canada’s Bill Dingman and Dan Maxwell combined for 31 points in the game.
This was B.C.’s 13th consecutive victory.
From Feb. 25, 1985 Pall-Times
B.C. 66, New York Mills 64 (OT): At Laker Hall, B.C. trailed by two points with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter before Nicholson sank a pair of free throws to tie it, sending the game to overtime.
Broderick made two free throws with 39 seconds left in overtime to provide the game-winning margin. The senior guard finished with 16 points. Nicholson, a sophomore, tallied 14 points, five rebounds, and four steals in the game.
During the game, Baker surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his varsity career. He finished with 21 points in the contest. Wegzyn contributed 10 points.
Geers, a 6-foot-6 senior, grabbed seven rebounds. The Crusaders led 33-27 at halftime. New York Mills charged back, but the Crusaders survived and advanced to the Section III Class D championship game.
From March 4, 1985 Pall-Times
B.C. 77, Sackets Harbor 65: At Jefferson Community College, Baker poured in 29 points and Kevin Broderick netted 22 as the Crusaders captured the Section II Class D title.
Other leaders for B.C. in the game were Nicholson (12 points) and Wegzyn (12 rebounds). Wegzyn and Geers led the way as the Crusaders dominated the rebounding department in the game, 42-16.
B.C. led 38-33 at halftime and 59-49 through three quarters.
“That was as good as we had played in a while,” Broderick said. “It just felt like we were starting to play our best basketball.”
From March 11, 1985 Pall-Times
B.C. 73, Cherry Valley 66: At Le Moyne College, the Crusaders notched this state tournament victory behind 26 points from Baker, 20 from Nicholson, and 17 from Kevin Broderick. Wegzyn contributed six points and 11 boards.
The Crusaders took a 34-28 halftime lead and expanded the cushion to 56-42 through three quarters.
A key to the outcome was the play of sophomore Mike Cahill, a defensive specialist for B.C. He held Cherry Valley star Keith Thompson in check throughout the contest.
“We were a true team. We just had so many good players. We were deep, and different guys would step up,” Broderick said. “Mike was the unsung hero of that game.”
“I don’t know what it is about this team, but they don’t know how to lose,” Coach Bisesi said after the win.
From March 18, 1985 Pall-Times
B.C. 68, Honeoye 64: This state Class D semifinal game was played at Broome County Arena.
The Bulldogs entered the game with a 23-1 record and a No. 8 state ranking, while the Crusaders were ranked 19th.
Kevin Broderick swished in 21 points and the Crusaders dominated the rebounding department 29-19 to get the win.
Baker collected 20 points, including eight of his team’s final 10. Wegzyn tallied 11 points and 16 rebounds, and Geers chipped in eight points.
The Bulldogs led 61-58 with 3:58 left. After Baker made two free throws and a baseline jump shot, B.C. led 62-61.
With 19 seconds left, Nicholson sank two free throws to make it 66-62. The Bulldogs scored and then fouled Baker, who clinched the win by making two free throws with five seconds left.
As usual, many hometown fans made the trip to cheer for the Crusaders.
“No matter where we played, we had tremendous fan support,” Broderick said, noting that a spectator bus was provided to take fans to the game.
From March 25, 1985 Pall-Times
B.C. 69, Bridgehampton 67 (2OT): Kevin Broderick made a jump shot with eight seconds left in the second overtime to snap the 14th and final tie of the game and give the state crown to the Crusaders. Broderick hit a pull-up bank shot from about 10 feet.
Because Bridgehampton’s tight defense made it risky to pass the ball, Bisesi called for Broderick to hold the ball for the last shot. Broderick said he had missed on the last shot in the fourth quarter, but he converted this time.
Troy Bowe missed a 12-footer at the buzzer for defending state champion Bridgehampton, which finished with a record of 21-3.
B.C. finished with an overall record of 24-2. The Crusaders won their last 18 games.
Broderick notched 15 points and seven assists, and was named the MVP of the state tournament. Other leaders in the state final for B.C. were Baker (23 points, 8 rebounds), Wegzyn (12 points, 16 rebounds), and Nicholson (11 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists).
Bridgehampton’s quickness and pressure defense forced several Crusader turnovers, mostly in the first half. Broderick said B.C. settled down in the second half and handled the pressure better.
“We just played our game the way we’ve always played it,” Baker said after the game.
“It was a great feeling. We certainly felt like we earned it with how hard we practiced and how much time we put in,” Broderick said.
In addition to the reserve players and the fans, Broderick pointed out another unsung hero in the march to the title. He said Frank Paino, a teacher and coach at B.C. at the time, turned a tiny room next to the gym into a weight room, and the players used it to build their strength and stamina at a time when not many teams utilized weight training.
In May that year, Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim was the guest speaker at a testimonial dinner for the Crusaders at St. Francis Hall.