By Danny Lopriore
The Horace Greeley boys’ basketball team saw its successful season end in the Section 1, Class AA semifinals Wednesday, but not before battling defending sectional and state champion Mount Vernon head to head in a 91-80 loss at the Westchester County Center.
The Quakers (18-5), seeded fourth, led by as many as eight points in the first half and still led 47-41 early in the third quarter before the top-seeded Knights (21-2) extended to a 70-63 lead going into the fourth. Mount Vernon advanced to Saturday’s Class AA title game at Pace University, where they beat Ramapo.
Senior Gregory Karr hit 7 of 11 3-point shots and scored a team-high 23 pointsto lead the upstart Quakers. Karr made his first four tries from 3-point range, including two in the first quarter to lift the Quakers to a 21-13 first-quarter lead.
Greeley coach Felix Nicodemo, who took over the team this year, said the game plan was to take the game to the Knights from the opening whistle.
“If I told you I was surprised, I’d be lying, about what this team is capable of,” Nicodemo said. “We decided we were going to go at them from the start, press them and play our game. “Mount Vernon had the advantage in size and depth on the bench, but we played them tough the whole way. We don’t give in and that’s why we have been successful this year.”
While Karr and the Ouakers were making 9 of their 16 chances from 3-point territory, seniors Brandon Gecaj and Jeremy Block were penetrating the Knights defense to get to the basket. Gecaj scored 20 and Block added 15. Sophomore star Chris Melis, who was slowed by early foul trouble, scored 14.
“Guys stepped up and we took it to them,” Nicodemo said. “We made our shots. They can wear you down a little. I thought the rebounding was the difference. We worked hard inside and left it all out on the floor.”
Senior Jason Douglas-Stanley was a force for the Knights, scoring a game-high 37 points, including 15 in the decisive third quarter when Mount Vernon pulled away from a halftime tie to take a 70-63 lead. Sophomore big man Troy Hupstead scored 13 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Greeley played the Knights chest to chest in all aspects of the game except for rebounding, where the winners outrebounded the Quakers 36-17. Mount Verno’s superior size and bench depth proved to be the difference into the fourth quarter.
Mount Vernon’s 14-2 run early in the fourth quarter stretched its lead to 86-68. Douglas-Stanley had seven points in the run.
Despite trailing by 18 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Quakers rallied one last time after Karr and Melis both fouled out of the game. Gecaj scored seven points and Greeley cut the Knights’ lead to 11 before the final buzzer.
“We are still dealing with a loss, so the guys may not want to think about the overall season right now,” Nicodemo said. “I’ll tell you what, we found out we could do great things if we outwork the other team. We did that.”