In our best Dave Johnson impersonation (the sportscaster best known for his work in horse racing): “And down the stretch they come!” As we head out of the three-quarter turn and in to the final stretch, the Section 1 hoops circuit is as frenzied as ever, with four of the five classifications up for grabs, and marginal optimism for sectional championships in and about the Northern Westchester/Putnam region. It’ll be a major undertaking for any of the locals this season.
Class AA Mount Vernon, even in a year when the mighty, state-ranked (No.19) Knights are not looked upon as unbeatable and premier by their standards, are still the clear favorites; with likely No.2 Spring Valley and No.3 New Rochelle right behind. Yorktown (13-5), currently seeded seventh, might get a look at New Ro’ in the second round, but there isn’t another Class AA team from our neck of the woods that can remotely hang with the top dogs in AA, including potential No.16 seed Carmel (7-11), as well as Mahopac (3-15) or Ossining (4-14), who will be hard-pressed to crack the field of 16, much less win a playoff game.
Class A is not as clear-cut, despite the fact that state-ranked (No.1) Byram Hills (17-1) and No.3 Tappan Zee (17-0) are clearly two of the best Class A teams in the state. Both have proven to be the distinct favorites and their ridiculously driven fan bases will only make them tougher to beat in the post season. However, Rye and Saunders pushed Byram to the limit, and TZ has gone to the brink with Albertus Magnus, Hen Hud and Nanuet. It’s not bloody likely, but both can be had, particularly if Saunders, a Class AA semifinalist last year, is as good as Bulldog Coach Anthony Nicodemo believes.
Class B is flat-out up for grabs, with potential No.6 seed Croton-Harmon (11-5) staring down the barrel of a potential opening-round game against likely No.10 Putnam Valley (7-9). Defending champion Briarcliff (14-4), enters as the favorites to repeat; despite not being as strong as the Bears were last season.
Below is a class-by-class look at prospective local matchups and what not based on current seeds, which are subject to change over the course of the next week.
YORKTOWN Coach Kevin Downes: All he does is win. When he was at Mahopac, all he did was produce an unprecedented four-straight Class AA Final 4 appearances and one infamous title tilt with Mount Vernon, which led to his bolting Mahopac for Yorktown.
Now, at Yorktown, all he does is continue to win, amassing a 13-5 overall record (5-2 league) while having the Huskers in position to share the League I-C title after Yorktown knocked off host Fox Lane, 59-53, last Friday night.
“I’m really proud of this group.,” Downes said of the Huskers, who might host current No.10 Mamaroneck (8-9) in the opening round should the seeds hold true. “We lost three in a row and they could have packed it in but they didn’t. Even the games we lost we could have won but made some crucial mistakes. They stayed the course kept working hard and turned it around. We have great leadership and a group that just works hard and roots for each other. They are a lot of fun to be around.
“You know I take nothing for granted,” the coach added, “but if we beat Portchester we will be co-league champs. That hasn’t happened at Yorktown for a long time. I would say maybe 07-08 or longer. It would be a great accomplishment, considering the injury to Tanner and our overall inexperience. If we can accomplish that, great! We just hope for a good seed come playoffs. I know we’ll play hard.”
Point guard Sol Barer had one of his finest outings against the Foxes. The senior dropped 19 points, collared five rebounds and dished five assists. Senior F Kyle Casey was a force in the paint with 13 points, six boards and four blocks. G James Lundberg had 12 points for the Huskers, who settled for a split of the league title they believe they should own outright (ain’t a dude on the squad who thinks otherwise).
Yorktown also had a 49-34 win over Greeley last Wednesday, in which Sol Barer had 10 points and seven boards. Husker F Kyle Casey and G Marc Spinelli both chipped in 10 apiece. Yorktown sparked some concern for about a week, senior F Tanner Dyslin went down with an ankle injury, but with a healthy Dyslin back in the fold Yorktown looks good again, and with everyone back to their respective roles the Huskers are peaking at the right time, despite Saturday’s 54-45 loss to RCK.
“It does seem like we’ve been hitting our stride lately for many reasons,” Spinelli said. “People like Cam (Cuparo), Michael (Broder) and Kyle stepping up lately has made it a lot easier for us to execute and play the way we want. The veteran leadership from our captains, Sol, Matt (Severino) and Tanner has also been a big reason for our success this season.”
Currently at No.16 CARMEL, would have to beat No.17 John Jay EF in the outbracket before tipping off against No.1 Mount Vernon in the opening round. Nice draw! No.20 MAHOPAC would need to upset No.13 Horace Greeley before facing No.4 Fox Lane in the opening round, which seems a better draw than Carmel got. No.18 OSSINING would need an outbracket win over No.15 Suffern before seeing No.2 Spring Valley.
Perhaps no team in Section 1 is as improved as Class A PEEKSKILL this season. After slogging through a two-win 2016 campaign, Coach Tim Turner’s Red Devils have gone 12-5 this year after sweeping HEN HUD in a 71-62 triumph last Wednesday. Peekskill was sporting the No.7 seed as of press time, possibly pitting them against potential No.10 Roosevelt in the opening round of sectionals.
“The boys are finally focused and committed, on and off the court, to putting this program back on the map,” Coach Turner said.
Peekskill junior swingman C.J. Redd had 20 points and eight assists in one of his best outings of the season against the vexing Sailors, losers in seven of the last eight. Point guard Shion Darby added 19 and Amadou Traore scored 13 for the Red Devils, who look the part of a potential Final 4 contender for the first time since 2013.
No matter what happens in the post season, ya gotta feel good for Redd, who came aboard as a freshman and stuck it out through thick and thin. Winning feels good, he admitted.
“It brings us together,” Redd said. “When we’re winning, it gives us the drive to work harder, as opposed to the last few years when we were getting frustrated because we were working hard and seeing little results. Now, it’s more of going into every game mentally prepared and focusing on executing; because we’re seeing that if everybody executes, we’re a tough team to beat.”
SOMERS (10-8) could still be a tough out for some unsuspecting souls, provided the Tuskers, currently a 11-seed, get healthy. Somers is looking at potential suitors such as No.4 Lourdes, No.5 Saunders or No.6 Magnus, none of which would be an easy out on the road.
Somers made a move to improve its seed in Saturday’s 65-60 win over Class AA host Mahopac where junior sniper Lorenzo Bicknese dropped a game-high 22 points.
No.15 PANAS (9-10), No.16 HEN HUD (7-10), No.23 LAKELAND (6-11) and No.24 BREWSTER (5-12) will likely have to go the out-bracket route to crack the field of 16, provided they qualify.
Streaky Panas should do so, having won its third in a row, a 49-45 win over Brewster Saturday night. Panther F Brandon Ramos had 17 to lead all scorers.
CROTON-HARMON led Valhalla, 26-21, at halftime, but came unglued defensively in the second half of a 64-50 loss last Thursday, eliminating Croton (11-4, 4-3) from league title contention. The Tigers needed Briarcliff to fall apart down the stretch, which isn’t likely, considering the Bears did the Tigers in on Saturday, 60-47. Now, the Tigers are looking at a more difficult opening-round foe, which could turn out to be Put Valley.
Senior point guard Charlie Goldenberg did his thing (24 points, 6 boards) against the Bears, but it wasn’t enough. Goldy also dropped a team-high 18 points in the loss to Valhalla. Freshman Sean Macarchuk went for a dozen against the Vikings while senior G Rory Parker added 12. Parker also had 13 against Briarcliff, which clinched their third straight league title.
“They are so deep, experienced, and talented,” Croton Coach Ben Martucci said. “What continues to separate them from the rest of the league, and the rest of Class B as a whole, is their depth. Beating a team that has that much talent continuously coming off the bench is a tall order. Hats off to them, and to Coach Moffett.”
PUTNAM VALLEY is clearly ahead of schedule. The goals for the 2017 campaign have changed after the Tigers (7-9), currently seeded No.11, have reeled off victories against state-ranked Class C power North Salem and Class A Brewster. Coach Mike McDonnell’s original goal for the youthful Tigers, who start four sophomores and won’t lose a central figure to graduation, was to make the playoffs. But budding 6’1” sophomore Darnel Shillingford, who pairs with 6’3” classmate TJ Brescia to form what will be a dirty front-court duo, admitted that’s no longer the case.
“We think we’re better than that, so we’re not settling for just making the playoffs anymore,” he said, while agreeing that a fifth-straight Final 4 County Center appearance is the big-picture goal.
Croton manhandled the Tigers in a 41-23 rout just before Christmas; in what was clearly PV’s low-water moment. Both teams have improved since then, and we’d suspect a knock-down, drag-out battle in Croton’s Tigertown; one can only hope.
HALDANE (7-9, 1-3), the two-time defending Class C champs, are staring at a potential No.5 seed, despite consecutive recent wins over Pawling and Irvington, which was a nice win for the Blue Devils. Haldane will really need to turn it around if it is going to knock off No.1 North Salem, whom they’ve lost to twice, No.3 Schechter and scrappy No.2 Tuckahoe, winners in 12 of the last 13, in order three-peat.
PUTNAM/NWE FAB FIVE HOOPS POLL
(if the playoffs started today version)
No.1 YORKTOWN – Looks like Class AA Huskers would need to need to beat either New Ro or Spring Valley to reach Final 4, unless they can get to No.5 seed, which would lighten the load to County Center.
No.2 PEEKSKILL – Class A Red Devils need to find a way to No.6 seed to avoid quarterfinal tilt with defending champion Byram Hills, who they should see if they get No.7.
No.3 SOMERS – Class A Tuskers would have to go through Magnus and Rye to get to County Center, which is doable if they are healthy and care at all about a legacy that might include NYS football and soccer titles, plus a Final 4 hoops appearance at County Center.
No.4 CROTON – Class B Tigers, should they see Put Valley in opening round, better understand that they will be facing a much-improved team in the playoffs. I know where I’ll be if this matchup pans out.
No.5 HEN HUD – Class A Sailors best find their swag switch and flip it on if they plan on upsetting top seeds Tappan Zee or Byram in first round.