By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
Class B PUTNAM VALLEY began the season at 1-8, and it looked like a third straight season of gloom and doom was on the horizon for the once-proud franchise that took the section by storm between 2013 and 2018 reaching a pair of sectional title games and three Final 4’s. Out of nowhere, though, Coach Al Morales started pushing all the right buttons and the Tigers (9-9) have won eight of the last nine, including Friday’s stunning 65-58 win over visiting Class AA CARMEL, which had just knocked off an RCK club that is staring down the barrel of a No.4 Class AA seed.
When Putnam Valley (9-9, 5-2) was taking on top-flight programs like Briarcliff and Woodlands in the sectional finals (2014, 2016), the program had won over 100 games between 2014-2019. The glory years have been a thing of the past since Woodlands shocked then-top-seeded PV in the 2019 quarterfinals. The 2020 and 2021 seasons were a far cry from what folks had become accustomed to, and 2022 looked like more of the same before the Tigers found themselves.
“I am so happy and thrilled for these boys,” said Morales, who left Kennedy Catholic and took over in 2020 from former PV Coach Mike McDonnell, who orchestrated much of the Tigers’ success between 2014-19 after Coach Ed Wallach led the Tigers to a 2013 Final 4 loss to Lourdes. “They have worked their tails off six days a week for me and the program. Chemistry and work ethic has been our spark. We started the season off 0-6 but played a heavy schedule on purpose with the hope that we would eventually succeed. They really trust the process and have earned all that has come their way so far. It is never easy when you have young players in the mix. You always need to leave room for inexperienced play. We are now in the final stretch of our season and gelling at the right moment with still a great deal of great coaching and competition ahead.”
The upset of Carmel has officially put the Tigers on the Class B radar as they were set to conclude the regular season last night at home against League III-E champion HALDANE (17-2, 7-0), which was hoping to wrap up an undefeated league campaign.
PV senior Cole Durocher, a four-year veteran who was a budding freshman on the 2018 team, hasn’t had the supporting cast during his sophomore and junior seasons, but he and senior F Arthur Holzman stuck it out and laid the foundation for a strong finish and a bright future. Durocher finished with a team-high 21 points against the Rams while freshman F Nate Shillingford went for a career-high 19 points. Holzman added 14 points, nine boards and four blocks while Sean Holzman added eight boards and six points and Tommy Calicchio had six steals.
“That was one of the biggest games of the year for us,” Durocher said. “We played our game and paid no attention to the fact that they were in a different class than us. I love these guys and I think we are gonna be a problem for teams come playoffs.”
Carmel was led by senior F Nick DiLeo’s game-high 29 points and seven boards.
“They didn’t surprise us because we knew they had some good players,” second-year Carmel Coach Brandon Johanson said. “We didn’t execute efficiently offensively and it cost us. Our legs were flat as well. We have played six games in 10 days, and 11 games in 18 days, with most of those back-to-backs. Hats off to PV, though, they played a great game and earned the win.”
Carmel senior F Randy Aboagye had 10 points and 10 rebounds while senior G Andrew Fiore, who finished with nine points and nine caroms, admitted the Rams were caught off guard.
“We definitely took PV too lightly,” Fiore said. “It’s hard to come back with the same energy after beating a team like RCK, but it’s still unacceptable how we played on the defensive end tonight.”
In Putnam Valley’s 75-50 league win over Pawling, Durocher stroked a season-high 28 points while (12) and Shillingford (10) also went for double digits on senior night when a Section 1 referee was loudly booed for a charging call against the hometown Tigers with 20 seconds left and then promptly ejected more than 50 student body fans #ThingsYouNeverSawBefore.
MAHOPAC saw both its boys’ and girls’ hoops programs run the table with perfect 10’s in League II-C, and as a result both are expected to secure a top-4 seed and a pair of home games. After opening the season at 1-3, Coach Tom McMahon’s Indians (14-4) have won 13 of 14 and enter the Class A postseason on a roll, searching for the first gold ball in school history. Oddly enough, if the current playoff seeds (as of Super Bowl Sunday) hold true, No.4 Mahopac would host No.13 Lakeland in the first round of the playoffs should both survive the outbracket round while the No.4 Mahopac girls would host No.5 Lakeland in the quarterfinals should both survive and advance #BorderWars.
“I really think there are 10 teams that could win (the gold ball),” Mahopac Coach Tom McMahon said. “TZ is the clear favorite, but even their road won’t be easy. There will be major upsets (based on seeds) in every round.”
Lakeland knocked off Mahopac in the finals of the Lakeland tourney in early December. Both have improved vastly over time.
“I definitely think we are better than we were then, but they are, too,” McMahon said. “It would be a wild game for sure. We have played well, and I’m happy about that, but we’ve mixed in some stinkers, too.”
The Class A tournament was set to tip off this week with outbracket rounds beginning Feb.18th and opening rounds on Feb. 22nd in Class A, Feb. 19th in Classes AA and B.
NOTES of Interest: I know that officiating high school sports is a thankless gig, and I’ve stood by referees/umpires over the course of my entire career and always will, especially when some foolish parents refuse to stifle their gums. However, in Putnam Valley’s senior night game last Tuesday, the student body vociferously booed a referee’s “charging” call against a Tiger player with 20 seconds remaining in their rout of visiting Pawling. The referee promptly, and I do mean swiftly, tossed the entire student body from the gym.
I’d never seen anything like it in the 33 years I’m covering local sports. There were 20 dang seconds left in the game, at which point you swallow your pride and leave the floor in under a minute without causing a scene. Was it unsportsmanlike? Yes! Was it personal? Hell no!
Then, over in Pearl River last week, Pirate fans in the gym were making noises – monkey- and ape-like shrieks – as a Black Nyack student athlete readied to take his free-throw shots from the foul line on several different occasions, according to Nyack players who watched video tape in disbelief after the game (https://twitter.com/NYACKHSHOOPS/status/1491869628942987272). Nobody did a thing, not a damn thing, to hold that student body accountable for their insufferable actions, though they are now said to be investigating after the fact, if only because they got called out.
If a referee can toss 80-something kids from a gym for booing his call in Put Valley, why the hell can’t members of the Pearl River security team – during a teachable moment – toss a pack of A-holes for displaying blatant racism against a neighboring community?
Makes me sick! I thought this generation knew better, but this was a stark reminder that there’s still a ton of work ahead of us.
Ray has 33 years experience covering and photographing local sports in Westchester and Putnam counties, including everything from Little League/Travel Baseball to varsity high school prep sports and collegiate coverage. He has been a sports editor at Examiner Media since its inception in 2007.