GLENS FALLS — The moment Terrence Holden said those words, Khalil Edney bobbed his head and sang. “Yeah,” Edney said, “We started from the bottom.”
If anything inspires New Rochelle these days, it’s the team’s humble beginnings. So the Huguenots have blared Drake’s “We Started from the Bottom” on bus rides and in locker rooms all postseason.
It is the unofficial anthem to an improbable run.
“We started 2-6. Everyone was saying that this was not a good team, we had a new coach and it was going to take awhile,” senior Sean Fener said. “But we believed in each other. We started from the bottom. Now we’re one game away from being state champs.”
New Rochelle stormed into Sunday’s Class AA state championship game by winning its eighth straight. The once disappointing Huguenots sit just one win from ascending to the top after Saturday’s 60-46 win over Section 11’s Northport in the state semifinals at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“We were at the bottom of the food chain as a ninth seed in the playoffs. That song has been our motto ever since,” said Edney, who had 13 points and two blocks. “We started from the bottom and now we’re here.”
Senior Joe Clarke propelled New Rochelle (16-9) again. After scoring just two points and missing all four shot attempts in the first quarter, the 6-foot-3 forward sparked his offense with defense. Clarke had eight steals and finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The team’s defense started at the point with pressure from senior Donny Powell, who limited Northport’s star point guard Matt Smith to two points and two assists. Smith attempted just one field goal.
As expected, Northport (22-3) received production from 6-9 senior Luke Petrasek, a Division I recruit who had 22 points and eight rebounds. But the Huguenots negated Smith and another secondary option, Mike Milligan Jr., who had just five points.
They also shot an uncharacteristic 15 of 17 from the free-throw line, including Holden’s 5 for 5. The senior worked this week with Young’s former high school coach at New Rochelle, Nat Harris, and it had an impact.
“It was unbelievable,” first-year coach Rasaun Young said. “I told the guys, ‘You waited until the second-to-last game of the year to have a free-throw contest.’ ”
New Rochelle will now play Section 5 champ Bishop Kearney at 3:15 Sunday for the state title. It will be the program’s second appearance in a final and first since 2005, but the school is in search of much more significant history. No school has ever won both football and basketball state titles in the largest class, let alone in the same season.
The Huguenots were once 8-9, but they enter the final confident.
“We beat the best team already. We beat the team we needed to beat and that was Mount Vernon,” said Holden, who had nine points and five rebounds. “We’re just going step by step now, trying to get the job done and win states.”
Mount Vernon beat Bishop Kearney 71-61 on Jan. 6 at West Point, but Kearney played without 6-10 Syracuse-bound senior Chinonso Obokoh, who had 12 rebounds and three blocks in Saturday’s 65-58 overtime win over Troy.