I caught up with Kevin Downes and assistant Dan Cross following Mahopac’s heart-stopping 72-69, double-OT win over Arlington. Here’s my story about the game:
With each berth to the County Center, the expectations reset, heightening a little more each year. Entering this season, a third straight trip to the Class AA semifinals seemed like the bare minimum Mahopac would accept.
Even so, when the final shot rimmed out and the Indians had beat Arlington, again, in double overtime, again, 62-59 in the Class AA quarterfinals, coach Kevin Downes still found himself amazed by his team.
“Unbelievable. To say it’s a great feeling is an understatement,” said Downes, a Mahopac graduate. “I thought last year was as good as it would get, but to go on the road and get there again and have the same kind of game? This one is really special.”
For Mahopac, it is also historic. The Indians (17-3), winners of 15 straight, reached the County Center for the third consecutive time – an achievement that is believed to be a program first. They will meet No. 9 New Rochelle on Friday, March 1 at 5 in the semifinals, a game that will pit two of the section’s most physical frontcourts against one another.
First, Mahopac needed to survive another chest-thumper with Arlington, the No. 4 seed, which beat the Indians 64-58 on Dec. 6 in both teams’ season opener. They traded leads throughout four physical quarters and were tied 48-48 with under 20 seconds to play. Senior Brendan Hynes missed a 3-pointer and the Indians missed an attempt at a put back before the final buzzer sounded to send it to overtime.
The score remained tight until the final minute of the first overtime. Down 54-51, Mahopac forced an Arlington turnover with under 30 seconds to play. Hynes, the team’s leading scorer and a two-time all-section player, delivered in dramatic fashion, tying the game with 4.4 seconds left on a three-point play.
With the season seemingly in jeopardy, the Indians always seemed to save it.
“There was a time where I thought, wow, we’re letting this one get away, but I don’t think the kids ever felt that way,” Downes said. “I think that’s a credit to their experience.”
They held a 60-59 lead entering the final minute when Ryan Simone hit a pair of clutch free throws. Following a Mahopac turnover, Arlington called timeout with 12 seconds remaining and Downes (ahead by three) said he contemplated fouling, a tactic his team used successfully in an overtime victory over White Plains on Jan. 5 at Brewster.
This time, Downes’ players urged him to play defense.
“We toyed with the idea of, ‘Do we foul?’” Downes said. “The kids said, ‘We’re good coach.’ I reminded them that Beacon let up a 3 against Byram with 0.5 seconds left and told them, ‘You just have to guard the 3-point line. If they get a 2, they get a 2.”
Arlington attempted a tough 3-pointer that missed. Time expired as Mahopac’s Dan Tully and Arlington’s Gio Rodriguez chased the loose ball.
Hynes led the Indians with 23 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Simone added 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. John Vitkus chipped in five points and eight boards.
Tully, a senior guard, also returned to the lineup after missing Friday’s Class AA opening round game with an ankle injury.
Errico Feaster led Arlington with 14 points. Jayson Leigh added 13 and Mike Duffy had 12.
“I was real proud of our guys,” Arlington coach Matt Hoyt told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “We got down 10 points early and there’s no quit in this team, like it’s been all year.”
That identity has defined Mahopac’s season, too. With nine seniors returning, the Indians now find themselves one game shy of last year. After their 76-75, double-OT win at home in the 2012 quarterfinals, they beat Fox Lane in the semifinals before falling to Mount Vernon in the championship.
To this point, these playoffs have proved eerily reminiscent to those.
“Everything tonight was the same except for the venue,” Downes said. “The crowd was great and the game was great.”