BINGHAMTON – Aidan Hilderbrand could’ve played it cool, as he had just two minutes earlier, and continued to exude the swagger he carried on Saturday morning.
Instead, the Our Lady of Lourdes basketball player was candid.
“Hell yeah, I was nervous,” he said bluntly. “I tried to keep it cool, but there were so many nerves.”
Well, he is a freshman and Lourdes was locked in a taut contest in the state Class A semifinals. But the young’un controlled that tension and put forth a performance that certainly belied his age, and now has his team on the verge of its first state title.
Hilderbrand hit a tying jumper late in the fourth quarter and eventually sank the clinching free throws as Lourdes rallied back to beat Southampton High School, 70-67, at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
“We’re just one win away!” said James Anozie, who led the Warriors with 25 points and 10 rebounds. “The whole community is behind us and it’d be a nice thing to bring them back a championship.”
The center dominated throughout, but it took heroics from Hilderbrand and Kevin Townes for Lourdes to eke out the victory and continue its historic run.
The Warriors (20-6) face Irondequoit of Section 5 in the final at noon Sunday. Lourdes seeks to become only the third boys basketball team from Dutchess County to win a state championship, and the first since Millbrook claimed one in 1999. Lourdes had never before even reached the state semifinals.
After Hilderbrand’s jumper tied it at 61 with 2:44 remaining, Townes drained a three from the left corner 34 seconds later to give Lourdes the lead for good. Seconds later, he got a steal near midcourt and took it in for a layup.
“I air-balled my first three and the second one I left short,” Townes, a senior, said of his three-point shots. “But in the second half I started feeling it. By the time the last one went up, I was so confident it was going in.”
The guard had 21 points, including four three-pointers, to go with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Aidan Hilderbrand added 21 points and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-2 forward showcased his arsenal, scoring on drives to the basket, put-backs, jumpers and hit a three.
Southampton, of Section 11, pulled within 68-67 with 27 seconds remaining. The Mariners then came up with a steal in the backcourt with 20 seconds left, but missed the would-be go-ahead layup. Townes grabbed the rebound and flipped the ball backwards to Aidan Hilderbrand as he fell out of bounds.
After a series of clock-stopping fouls, Southampton sent Aidan Hilderbrand to the line with nine seconds left. The Mariners, known for their perimeter shooting, had hit 13 threes in this contest, so although the clock was in Lourdes’ favor, it was almost imperative that Hilderbrand make both free throws.
We should probably mention here that Hilderbrand struggled at the line during stretches of the regular season. Eh-hem. He swished both this time.
“As a freshman, you don’t have much experience to fall back on,” Lourdes coach Jim Santoro said. “He’s listening and learning as we go, but also playing like a seasoned veteran.”
Southampton’s last-second three missed and Joe Heavey snagged the rebound as time expired. So was triggered a delirious crowd who traveled 140 miles from Poughkeepsie, and a giddy team that had just survived its test on the grand stage.
“I don’t consider age a disadvantage or take it as an excuse,” said Hilderbrand, who recently turned 15. “I just try to be myself and play my game.”
Brady Hilderbrand, a junior, had two points, five assists and five rebounds, and Heavey had two points and four rebounds for Lourdes.
Southampton (21-4) had knocked off the defending state champion, Elmont, in the Long Island championship to earn its bid upstate last week. The Mariners boast a cadre of scorers, including five quality outside shooters. Southampton, however, lacked the size to contend inside with the 6-foot-5 Anozie, who went 10 for 14 from the field.
The Mariners’ shooting did offset that somewhat, and Aaron Krzyzewski (23 points) hit a three to give them a 50-43 lead with a minute left in the third. Lourdes surged early in the fourth and took a 59-57 lead on Anozie’s layup — after crossing over a defender on a drive from the foul line — but Southampton went back ahead on Krzyzewski’s free throws with 3:15 to go.
Lourdes watched Irondequoit dominate in the second half to beat Jamesville-DeWitt in the earlier semifinal. Preparation for the Eagles, Santoro said, would begin an hour after Lourdes’ win.
“They’ve got size, athleticism, they can shoot,” Santoro said of the opponent who stands in the way of his team’s first state championship. “I was impressed with how they attack the basket and how they hit the offensive boards. We’re gonna have to figure out how to counter that.”
Irondequoit, meanwhile, must contend with the Warriors’ Weapon X: The freshman.
“I told my brother over the summer that I’m gonna be on varsity,” Aidan Hilderbrand said of Brady. “He said, ‘No. How about junior varsity?’ That’s been my fire.”
In typical big-brother fashion, Brady Hilderbrand told his sibling that, but for more than a year he had been secretly talking him up to teammates.
“Brady told us last year how good Aidan was,” Anozie said with a grin. “We knew the kid had ice in his veins and was gonna be great.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4