With an early scoring spree and tight defense throughout, the Mechanicville boys’ basketball team rolled to a 21-point victory over Ticonderoga in last weekend’s Class C regional final at SUNY-Plattsburgh.
The Red Raiders’ four previous playoff games all went down to the wire, though, and they found a way to survive, edging Rensselaer, Voorheesville, Cambridge and Stillwater by a total of 15 points to get out of Section II for the first time since 2001.
“Last year we lost five games by nine points. When it got late in those games, we played not to lose rather than play to win,” Mechanicville coach Joe Loudis explained. “This year we’ve played to win. They think they can win. It’s a mind game now. They don’t think the other team can beat us.”
That belief, combined some superb team play at both ends of the court, has transformed Mechanicville from a six-win team to a state semifinalist. The Red Raiders (20-5) will take on 2007 state runner-up Friends Academy (Section VIII, 11-10) today at 5 at the Glens Falls Civic Center, while West Canada Valley (Section III, 25-0) and Maple Grove (Section VI, 23-2) meet in the other semifinal at 1:30.
The Class C championship is Saturday night at 7:15. Watervliet was Section II’s last state Class C champ in 1991, while Schenectady (Class A, 2001) was Section II’s last state titlist at any level.
“This is probably my most rewarding year because the kids have overachieved,” said Loudis, who also took his 1995 and 1996 Mechanicville teams to the state final four. “To go from 6-16 to 20-5 is quite an achievement, and three of those losses came against Class A teams. It’s really been a great ride.”
Loudis is hoping it lasts for two more games.
“I’ve been telling my guys, ‘We’re the New York Giants of New York basketball,’ ” said Loudis. “If we beat Friends and if West Canada wins, we can become state champions by beating an undefeated team.”
That doesn’t mean Mechanicville is looking past Friends Academy, which has a prolific senior guard in Jon Williams, who’s 10-foot jumper with eight seconds left gave the Quakers of Nassau County a 61-59 regional win over Tuckahoe last week.
Friends notched a 69-58 overtime win against Campbell-Savona in last year’s state semifinals before losing to Sidney, 67-49. Sidney was the team that eliminated Schenectady Christian in the other 2007 semifinal.
“They play a lot of Class A and B teams in their league. They’ve faced tough competition. They played for the [state] title last year,” Loudis said of Friends Academy. “But they can’t be any bigger than Albany Academy, and they can’t have a shooter better than Shea Bromirski [of Cambridge]. We’ve been focusing on the positives.”
Seniors Paul MacMillan, Pat Marra and Josh Gagliastri, and juniors Josh Rougia, Nick Lettrick and Chris Grayson have provided plenty of positives for the Red Raiders with their gritty defense and sharing of the basketball. MacMillan scored a team-best 14 points against Ticonderoga, Rougia netted a team-high 17 against Rensselaer in the Section II Class C CC-C playoff, and Marra and Lettrick led the way against Voorheesville in the Class CC title game with 12 apiece.
“We may not have the greatest players in the world, but as a team, this is one of my better ones. They play so well together,” said Loudis, who in 21 years at Cohoes and 10 at Mechanicville (in two stints) has amassed 421 wins, tops among Section II’s active coaches. “It’s not always the best team that wins. It’s often the team that plays the best together.”
Mechanicville will be using its unique 3-2 zone defense in an effort to contain Williams, Ramir Robinson and Harrison Hefele. Williams scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half against Tuckahoe, and in Friends’ 83-71 regional semifinal win over Port Jefferson before that, Williams netted 25 points and Hefele, a junior guard, clicked for 24.
“They’ve got three kids who do most of their scoring,” Loudis said. “We’ve got to play defense like we have been, and we’ve got to board with them. We can’t be giving up second and third shots.”
Marra made one of Mechaniville’s biggest shots in years, a long jumper with three seconds left as the Red Raiders clipped Cambridge in the sectional semifinals, 48-46. The senior forward was named the Section II Class CC most valuable player after Mechanicville’s 42-37 win over Voorheesville.
“The kids were not happy just to be at the Civic Center. They went there with the intention of winning,” Loudis said. “They have that same thought now that we’re going back. They’re a very confident group.”
Mechanicville lost to Buffalo Traditional in the 1995 state semifinals, and in 1996, Loudis’ Red Raiders beat Red Hook before losing again to Buffalo Traditional in the Class C title game. Coach Matt Sgambati’s 2001 Mechanicville team beat Seton Catholic in the semifinals before losing to Buffalo Traditional.
West Canada Valley, Maple Grove, Mechanicville and Friends are ranked No. 1-4 in the state, respectively.
griffins play saturday
Bishop Maginn (24-1) plays Mount Vernon (Section I, 23-3) in a state Class AA semifinal game Saturday at 2:15, with Niagara Falls (Section VI, 24-1) meeting Baldwin (Section VIII, 19-3) in the other at 12:30. Sunday’s championship game is at 2:45.
Mount Vernon got 29 points from Kevin Jones, and captured its eighth state title a year ago, with a 68-65 win over Bishop Maginn. The Golden Griffins earned a return final four trip by beating Henninger, 56-50, while Mount Vernon advanced with a 93-72 win over Binghamton. They come in ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state, respectively.
“After we beat Henninger the guys were talking about getting a second chance against Mount Vernon,” said Bishop Maginn coach Rich Hurley. “It’s not too often you get that kind of opportunity. We’ve had Mount Vernon in our sights since early November, and we’re ready to go.”
Mount Vernon has been a Section II nemesis in recent final fours, also owning semifinal wins over Christian Brothers Academy in 2006 and 2004. Maginn beat Fairport in its 2007 semifinal.
Hoosic Valley (26-0) will make its second consecutive state semifinal appearance today at 11:45 against Class B foe Nazareth Academy (Section V, 21-2) at Hudson Valley Community College. Hoosic Valley lost to Notre Dame-Elmira in the 2007 Class C semifinals. Nazareth made its last final four trip in 2006 and beat Cold Spring Harbor before losing to South Jefferson in the Class B final.
Kayla Ryan scored 17 points, and Carolyn Houston netted 11 of her 15 in an 18-7 fourth-quarter run which propelled Hoosic Valley past Ogdensburg Free Academy, 41-32, in its regional final. The Indians beat Northeastern Clinton before that, 43-33, and are ranked No. 1 in the state, one spot ahead of Nazareth. Nazareth got 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks from Massachusetts-bound Nicole Jones in a 67-54 regional win over Olean.
Briarcliff (Section I, 25-1) and Seton Catholic (Section IV, 22-1) meet in today’s other Class B semifinal at 10. Saturday’s championship game is at 4. Section II has not had a girls’ state champion since 2002, when Catholic Central (Class A) and Voorheesville (Class C) both prevailed.