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Host Yorktown Shines Bright as Gold Ball Venue for Section 1

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Local Communities Treated Beyond Expectations

By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
A vintage look at Yorktown High’s revamped gymnasium during Haldane — Hamilton game.

Host Yorktown High School, like it often has, outdid itself in last weekend’s Section 1 basketball championships where portions of Dutchess, Rockland, Putnam and Westchester counties were exposed to the Cornhuskers’ grandeur.

Not only were its newly-renovated lavish digs on the mark, but Yorktown shone a light brighter than ever on one of the section’s premier venues, which have gone next-level with its bright, expansive hardwood, state-of-the art bleachers and massive video screen.

“We wanted to produce a college-like feel in our gymnasium to match what we already have on Charlie Murphy Field,” Yorktown Athletic Director Rob Barrett said of the Cornhusker complex. “We’re very proud of the final product and we’re thrilled to welcome our local communities. Thanks to Superintendent Dr. Hattar, Principal DeGennaro, Director of Facilities Dennis Verboys, Diego Arroyo, Mike Grundig, the entire parking lot crew that handled thousands of cars, the custodial staff who made every game look like the first, my event staff, our AT, and of course, Yorktown’s finest.”

It’s hard to imagine a complex that could match the majesty of the Westchester County Center, where scores of gold balls have been hoisted and lifelong memories cherished since the 1930s. But with the Mecca still breaking down as a COVID vaccine station, Yorktown did its best to mimic the experience for the many student athletes and scores of fans that made their way to Husker Nation. The only thing missing was Yorktown’s mythical #Crop, the best fan base in Section 1.

“Yorktown stepped up for all of us,” Briarcliff Athletic Director Chris Drosopoulos said. “They did an amazing job. Please thank them for all of us.”

Consider it done, Drosops, but we can’t stop there. From the Section 1 team and security staff, to the Y-Town custodians, its athletic director, the Yorktown Central School District administration and staff, there’s plenty to be proud of. Everyone was greeted with a smile. Everyone felt welcome. Nothing was left to chance, and Yorktown showed up like few school districts in Section 1 ever could.

“I am beyond proud to work for such a great district,” Yorktown basketball Coach Mark Pavella said.

The action was furious over the weekend where eight championship games were contested between late Saturday morning through early Sunday evening, climaxing with the Poughkeepsie boys’ 43-41 Class A title win over Lourdes, one of many wild finishes. This Pioneer Coach Cody Moffett continues to produce greatness wherever he goes, and Poughkeepsie has a man with a plan to change lives.

“It was just a sensational job by the entire staff here at Yorktown, stepping up and hosting eight games over two long days,” legendary Section 1 sports guru Kevin Devaney said. “We owe Rob Barrett and his crew for it all.”

Locally, the action began with a feisty top-seeded Class C Haldane Blue Devils club that also mimics their head coach, Joe Virgadamo, a spirited mentor who bleeds blue and came up short of snagging the sixth sectional title since 1999, and first since 2016, when Haldane lost a heartbreaker.

“Man, does this one hurt,” Coach V admitted. “It’s the toughest loss of my career, hands down.”

Don’t fret, my man, you have done more for that community than most, and you’ll have many more cracks at it, given your style and approach to hoops. Your kids buy in every year, and that’s a credit to you and your staff.

The Putnam Valley girls delighted folks in the Valley for a third straight year, taking home the Section 1 Class B title for the second time in three years, to go along with last year’s COVID-abbreviated regional championship. Everyone expected a monster game from URI-bound junior G Eva DeChent and she delivered in every way, shape and form, but it was unheralded Nai Torres, just a sophomore, who played a fearless second half to get the Tigers over the hump.

“Nai Torres has improved with every game,” first-year PV Coach Don Hamlin said. “She’s so coachable. I can say anything to her and she says ‘yes, coach,’ even when she doesn’t want to. Her heart is as big as this room, and I love it when she’s driving like that.”

Listen, Put Valley went through some stuff a couple of weeks before the season when they declined to accept former Coach Kristi Dini back for the 2021-22 campaign. I don’t care what anyone thinks, Dini caught a bad break, and it truly sucks to be in the middle of it, knowing all parties like I do. Decade-long friendships might be fractured by things I think to myself sometimes, so we’ll leave it at that and conclude by saying Hamlin’s cool, calm and collected approach was just what the doctor ordered if, indeed, it had to go down like it did.

“I didn’t take this team to a championship, they took me,” Hamlin said. “They had the pieces in place and were well-coached, and I was fortunate enough before the season to get the phone call to coach them, and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’ and we did.”

Something tells me there’s another Final 4 in store for this unit in the days ahead. Book your rooms, folks!

The Walter Panas girls’ team, while they came up short in their title tilt loss to state-ranked (No. 2) Tappan Zee, were about as much fun to watch as any local team this season. Full of youth, exploding with vim and vigor, well-coached under Matt Evangelista and damn good at ballin’, I’d bet we see them in the hunt for the gold ball next season.

TZ was as good as any Class A girls’ team I’ve seen in my 30-plus years on the circuit, and the Panthers saw what the next level looks like. I suspect they’ll do what’s needed to get there.

Peace, y’all!

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