They had heard the criticisms and filed them away. Perhaps Bill Thom best summed up his players’ feelings on the reaction to Hudson Valley’s roster: “They said, who’s that?”
The dismissive response to their roster gave the players added motivation. They exchanged it for gold at these Empire State Games, rallying from 17 points down to defeat Central 92-85 to earn Hudson Valley its first title at the Games since 1995.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Who are they? Who are these kids?’” Kennedy senior Frankie Kelly said. “That fired us up.”
The team built great chemistry over the last five days, and New Rochelle senior P.J. Torres said it was evident as the clock dwindled in the second half. His team had trailed by as many as 17 and never led until there was 1:10 remaining. It was then that Torres — who led the comeback, scoring 21 of his game-high 38 points in the second half — went up for the go-ahead bucket but instead slipped a pass to Austin Taps. The Stepinac junior converted for the hoop to give Hudson Valley an 87-85 lead.
Torres capped his performance with a steal and a breakaway dunk. Taps then drew a charge with 12.8 to play that sealed the victory.
It’ll be interesting to watch Taps at Stepinac next season. I told Taps’ new coach Tim Philp after the game that the junior will be a perfect fit in that system. He’s tough and he’s rugged.
“That was the first time I’ve ever seen him take a charge,” said Kelly, who scored 18 points in the second half in a Saturday night comeback against Western that allowed Hudson Valley to play for gold. “Good time to take it, too.”
Clarkstown South junior Mike McCahey played a major role in today’s second-half comeback, scoring 20 points. He drained a big 3-pointer to cut it to 78-76 with 4:45 to play, and added the tying basket at 85-85 on a short jumper with 2:10 to play. (Torres had tied the game first, 83-83, on a putback with 2:35 to go.)
Here are a few interesting notes about the game:
— The gold was Thom’s first as the scholastic coach. Hudson Valley has now medaled four times in his five years at the Games (one gold, two silvers, one bronze).
— Torres has a flight to catch at 4. He’s headed to Orlando to play in AAU Nationals with the Hudson Valley Hornets.
— Two Central players fouled out in the second half and their absence was vital. One was the team’s best player, Zack Coleman of Cicero-North Syracuse, who scored 15 points in the first half but did not score again. He earned his fifth when one official whistled him for a tech on the bench. Central also played without one of its top forwards, Connor Rogers of Liverpool. He fouled out with 10 points.
— Here’s the complete box score…
Hudson Valley (4-0) … 42 50 — 92
Central (3-1) … 55 30 — 85
Hudson Valley: Shane Carter (Peekskill) 3-0-6, Craig Dorn (New Rochelle) 0-2-2, Dan Healy (Kennedy) 4-1-9, Chris Michella (Valley Central) 0-2-2, P.J. Torres (New Rochelle) 16-6-38, Frankie Kelly (Kennedy) 2-0-6, Mike McCahey (Clarkstown South) 8-2-20, Tyler Sayre (Albertus Magnus) 2-1-5, Conor Smith (Rye) 1-0-2, Austin Taps (Stepinac) 1-0-2.