Class A State Final
The Sweet Home varsity boys basketball team's first state title appearance in 22 years had all of the makings of a Hollywood ending.
The Panthers were in its first state final since 1984 when its coach Paul Schintzius won as a player. The current team's best player, Terrell Rankin, out since the first game of the season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, was cleared to play.
However, all of the good karma was not enough for the Panthers who fell, 46-39, to last year's Class A state champion, Peekskill, before an estimated 1,500 at Glens Falls Civic Center.
"I'm so proud of my kids," said Schintzius. "It was our game with a minute to go. We had last year's state champs on the ropes. After the game, their coach told me that we were the best team they had played all year."
A Quentin Hudson three-pointer with 2:46 left gave Sweet Home a 39-38 lead. But the Panthers never scored the rest of the game as they turned the ball over on its final three possessions. With 1:46 to play, Peekskill's Andre Jacobs launched an off-balanced shot then stripped the rebound out of Sweet Home's Daniel Joseph and scooped it in for a 40-39 lead. A three from Tyrone Murphy (10 points) and a steal and layup from Devon Beufort sealed the Red Devils' victory.
On paper, it looked like a David versus Goliath match-up. Coming into the game, Peekskill was 25-1 and had T-shirts stating they were back-to-back state champs. But Sweet Home proved they belonged as they took a 12-9 first quarter lead and scored the first five points of the second quarter to go ahead, 17-9. However, Peekskill used its 1-2-1-1 press that led to a 14-0 run to close out the first half ahead, 23-17.
"I think everybody in that gym thought it would be a blowout," said Schintzius. "Peekskill took us lightly."
Sweet Home outscored Peekskill 14-10 in the third quarter, including 4 of 4 free throws from Eric Schnirel to trail 33-31 and a Schnirel three-pointer moved them ahead 34-33 early in the fourth quarter. A leaner from Rankin put the Panthers ahead 36-33 with just under five minutes. It was Rankin's only points as he finished 1 of 5.
"Before our first sectional game with Bennett, the doctor and therapist told me that if we made it to the state finals, there was a chance he could play and be fine," said Schintzius. "As the postseason wore on and a state championship was upon us, we decided to let him play. He obviously wasn't the Terrell of old but what he did do was give us an emotional lift. All of his teammates were excited and when he went into the game, the crowd erupted. It was a Hoosiers-like moment."
Hudson, a senior, led Sweet Home with 12 points but shot only 4 of 19 from the floor. He also had two steals and three assists. Daniel Joseph, also a senior, scored eight points and grabbed 14 points. Schnirel (seven points), Earl Jackson (six), and Glenroy Carr, and Ali Ramadan (two each) also scored for the Panthers.
Peekskill's Mookie Jones garnered MVP honors with 13 points, four blocks, nine rebounds and an assist. He was held scoreless in the fourth.
Sweet Home eliminated Section VIII's Jericho, 53-46, this past Saturday in the semifinals.
The Panthers outscored the Jayhawks 13-7 in the first quarter and 24-15 by halftime. Jericho won the third quarter to trail 36-31 but made enough free throws (12 of 22) and played tough defense down the stretch to them off. Overall, Sweet Home converted on 17-of-31 free throws. In addition, they only shot 15-of-47 two-point baskets and 6-of-21 threes. Jericho was held to 18-of-54 shooting.
"They were 41-3 over the last three years and had a lot of returning players so we knew it wouldn't be easy," said Schintzius. "Their starting point guard (Michael Sinn) was a four-year starter who had a 77-10 record. But our defense came through."
Hudson led the Panthers with 18 points despite shooting 5 of 17 from two-point range and 2 of 8 from threes and seven rebounds. Carr added 14 points and nine rebounds. Joseph (seven points, 10 rebounds), Vroman (six points), Schnirel (five points, six rebounds) and Steven Roberts (three points) also contributed.
Sweet Home finished 21-6 and lose Hudson and Joseph, both tournament all-state selections, and Vroman to graduation.
"I've had better teams talent wise in the past seven years but no team was as tough," said Schintzius. "It was a very memorable season. The kids believed in one another and bought into what we taught them. They left every ounce of energy on the floor. It was a lot of fun. I have no regrets."