By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
JOHNSTOWN -- Tuesday night, Josh Gonzalez lived up to his enormous potential.
The 6-foot-5 Canajoharie sophomore forward has shown several flashes of brilliance over two varsity seasons, but in Tuesday's WAC Cup semifinal against Schoharie, Gonzalez put it all together -- a silky mid-range jump shot, deft touch around the rim and ferocious rebounding ability.
The result was an immense 27-point, 20-rebound effort that helped the Cougars power to a 19-point lead before the first quarter was through, then hold off a sustained Schoharie rally to notch a 54-47 victory at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
"That was the best game shooting I've ever had in my life," Gonzalez said. "I went in thinking it could be a double-double, but I wasn't expecting a 20-plus game. Hey, we got the win, and that's all I have to say."
Dillan Veeder added 13 points, six assists and four steals for the Cougars (15-2), while Karl Gustafson chipped in 11 points, but it was Gonzalez who stole the show -- and had first-year Canajoharie coach Phil Schoff gushing after the game.
"He's the type of player where he dedicates himself to the sport, on and off-season, and he's got a knack for the rim," Schoff said. "He didn't run too many plays correctly today, but he didn't need to. He's got a knack, a basketball IQ and you can't coach that. All the offensive rebounds, all the points he had, you could tell his mind was all geared for finding where the ball was gonna land and being there."
Gonzalez scored 12 of his career-high 27 points in the first quarter as the Cougars used the bigger dimensions of the F-MCC court and a disruptive full-court press to open up a 23-4 lead before a James Sackett 3-point buzzer-beater pulled the Indians within 16 at the end of the quarter.
"We pushed the ball like crazy in the first quarter, and that's how we play -- we're a fast-break team," Schoff said. "We knew with the bigger court, it was gonna be way more spread out and we would get some opportunities to get out on the break, and we did."
After that, however, Schoff said his team got content with its lead and let Schoharie claw back into the game. The Indians rode the shooting of Sackett and Tanner Stone to pull within 26-19 at the half and eventually close the lead to five in the third quarter.
But, for a Canajoharie team that's won nine games by 10 points or less during its current 12-game win streak, fending off an opposing team's charge was nothing the Cougars weren't already used to. Schoharie never got closer than five, as Gonzalez, Veeder and Gustafson combined to score all 28 of the Cougars' second-half points.
"Battling through the season is tough, but it's preparing us for sectionals," Veeder said. "We're gonna be ready."
The Cougars will face WAC South champion Mekeel Christian Academy in the WAC Cup title game Friday at 7:30 p.m. at F-MCC. The Lions roared to a 40-point win over WAC North runner-up Fort Plain, sprinting out to a 35-11 halftime lead and never looking back.
Though the Cougars' path in the Section II Class C tournament will be determined at today's seeding meeting, Veeder admitted he and his teammates are relishing a chance to hoist the WAC Cup before sectionals begin.
"Sectionals is of course more important, but the crossover games, the championship is pretty big," he said. "That's just a motivation thing. We set that as one of our goals, and it's something we look forward to."