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Girmindl's Ghost

A diary of Shaker High School's 2005-2006 basketball season, a retelling of Shaker's fabled 1979-1980 season, and general commentary on high school hoops, updated daily...

"I like sitting in the back row. I found that sitting against the wall is just easier on your back." -Dean Smith, on the comfort of the H-gym bleachers

Today (12/23) in 1979

Today (12/23) in 1979: Shaker did not play. Next game is 12/27/1979, against Saratoga in the first round of the Shaker Invitational Tournament.

A question I've gotten more than a few times is: what happened in 1978-79, the year prior to the year Girmindl's Ghost is following closely?

Well, it's a lengthy story in itself, but I'll try to tell it briefly. Shaker had been quite good in 1975-76 and 1976-77, losing both years in the sectional final. They had an off-year in 1977-1978, but the outlook was good for the 1978-79 season: they had two talented seniors in the frontcourt - Jeff Almstead and Mike Budka - and a deadly outside shooter named Mike Sally. Things were looking up.

And then 6' 9" junior Sam Perkins showed up. I'm going to save that backstory for another post.

Led by Perkins' amazing inside play (23 ppg, 14 rbg, endless blocks) and Sally's lights-out shooting, Shaker went 20-0 in regular season play, and found themselves ranked as high as 2nd in the state polls during the season, behind only mighty Mount Vernon. Shaker dominated the Suburban Council regular season play, and Sam was named to the all-state first team at the end of the season. Although the Bison were not nearly as dominant as they would be the following year, they had almost no close calls and won most of their games by a very healthy margin. Here are three newspaper clippings from the regular season:

After another blowout win:

After beating Columbia to get to 19-0:

After beating Monhonason to finish the regular season 20-0:

Shaker was, of course, seeded #1 in the Class A sectionals. They got a first round bye. In the second round, they were almost upset by Bisop Maginn despite a 13 for 15 shooting exhibition put on by Perkins. But they held on for a 50-49 win.

In the semifinal round of the sectionals, Shaker beat Linton (now Schenectady High) 71-53. Perkins had a career-game, with 28 points, 22 rebounds, and 16 blocks. Chuck Meehan and Mike Budka each added 12, and Jeff Almstead had 8.

The 1978-79 season's Class A sectional final is still regarded today as perhaps the greatest game every played in section 2. Shaker came in as the favorite at 22-0, but Catholic Central had been considered the local basketball powerhouse for quite some time, and had won the Big 10 championship during the regular season. Additionally, the Big 10 had traditionally been seen as a better conference than the Suburban Council during the 60's and 70's, and it was almost unheard of for a non-Big 10 team to win the section.

The game was played at the ARC at Siena and televised live on WNYT. The ARC sold out it's 4500 tickets, and the Times Union reported that over 1000 people were turned away at the door. The game did not disappoint. Shaker fell behind early, 10-2, and trailed 31-21 at the half. Perkins picked up his 4th foul in the 3rd quarter, and Shaker was in trouble. With 3:40 to go in the game, they were down 54-46, but then they came roaring back. Perkins hit a hook shot, Shaker got a steal and a long-range jumper from Sally, and then Perkins scored on a breakaway dunk to make it 54-52 with less than a minute to go. With no shot clock in 1978, Shaker was forced to foul. After CCHS missed the front of a 1-and-1, Shaker tied the game on another jumper by Sally with 22 seconds left. CCHS held the ball for the last shot, and looked to have the game-winning layup with 2 seconds to go, but Perkins blocked the attempt (many, many people at the time and over the years have contended it was goaltending) and the game went into overtime. In the overtime, the two teams traded baskets for a bit and it was 60-60 with 1:15 to go. Shaker decided to try to hold the ball for the last shot, and Perkins made a short jumper in the lane with 2 seconds remaining to give Shaker the sectional title, 62-60. Perkins finished with 35, Jimmy Brundige and Mike Sally each added 10. Here is the TU sports page headline from the next day:

The picture is a shot of the infamous block/goaltend at the end of regulation.

Shaker's next game was the regional final against Spring Valley, a 15-7 team that had won an upset sectional title. Shaker was heavily favored, but during the week before the game, 5 players on the team - including starters Perkins, Sally, and Almstead - came down with the flu and missed days of school. So the game looked to be more competitive than expected. It was again held at the ARC, a huge homecourt advantage for Shaker this time, and the Bison delivered, winning 75-65. Despite illness, Shaker played one of their most complete games of the season, shooting 65 percent from the field and 90 percent from the line. Perkins led the way with 30 points on 14 for 19 shooting, Sally added 14 on a perfect 7 for 7 from the field (on many shots that would have been 3-pointers now a days), and Jeff Almstead added 12. Spring Valley coach Lou Kliewe was very impressed with Shaker, "We'd heard about Perkins, of course, and he proved how good he was. But that is no one-man team. That Sally kid could probably shoot from the parking lot and it would go in. That's just an excellent team." Shaker advanced to the state semifinals, and learned the next day that they would face the #1 ranked team in the state, might Mount Vernon, in the state tournament in Rochester. Here's the preview from the TU:

Mount Vernon was ranked #1 in the state, Shaker #2. But Mount Vernon was a heavy favorite in the game, boasting 3 players who were serious D1 prospects. And for the first time all season, Perkins was going to have to deal with a single man who could, in theory, contain him - Mount Vernon's Rodney McCray, a fellow 1st team all-state selection. For a stretch, it looked like Shaker might pull off the upset. They played great defense in the first half and headed into the locker room with a 28-27 lead. But then Mount Vernon went on a serious run in the 2nd haf, taking as much as a 48-38 lead with 6 minutes to play. Shaker came roaring back on some hot shooting by Sally and some baskets by Perkins to make the score 48-47 with 3 minutes to go, but could never get over the hump. Mount Vernon outscored them 11-2 the rest of the way for the victory. Perkins finished with 27 (McCray had 22) and Sally added 12.

Shaker finished the season 24-1, two wins short of the state title, with their only loss to the eventual state champions. But things were looking excellent for the coming year: Perkins would be back, presumably bigger and stronger. Same for point guard Chuck Meehan. Mike Sally would be a tough loss, but reserve Jim Brundige was thought to be close to as good of a shooter. And waiting in the wings on the JV team to replace Budka and Almstead were two incredibly talented and incredibly tall rising-junior forwards, 6'5" Jeff Tuecke and 6'7" Tim Cain. If the 1978-1979 team was good enough to reach the state semis, then the following year looked to be a lock to contend for the title.

Things were looking up indeed. Sam played for the U.S. junior national team over the summer and added 30 pounds to his frame. The Shaker varsity played together in the Hoffman park summer league and dominated the competition. And when the first poll of the 1979-80 season came out, lo and behold it was Shaker ranked #1 in the state and Mount Vernon ranked #2. The Times Union preview for the season wrote, "Barring the unimaginable, this Shaker team will be in Rochester in March, looking to avenge last year's loss to Mount Vernon and claim the state title."

And that's where the story of the 1979-80 Shaker basketball season, as told on Girmindl's Ghost, begins.
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