WHITE PLAINS – Kevin Townes emerged as a hero for the Our Lady of Lourdes High School basketball team Sunday.
Perhaps a superhero, earning his cape with a key steal and a layup to lead the fifth-seeded Warriors to a 42-39 win over No. 2 Tappan Zee in the Section 1 Class A final at the Westchester County Center. It was Lourdes’ first section title since 2013.
“He saved the day for us!” teammate James Anozie exclaimed. “That was the biggest thing he’s done this year. He’ll never forget that. Kevin Townes, everybody’s going to know his name.”
With the win, the Warriors (18-6) made their name known among Westchester’s toughest competition, and also received a bye into the New York State regional final. They will take on either the Section 9 champion Poughkeepsie or Section 4 winners Johnson City at Pace University in Pleasantville on Friday.
“We’re going to relax tonight and celebrate a little bit,” Warriors coach Jim Santoro said after the game. “My coaching staff, which does a tremendous job, is going to scour every piece of information that’s out there and give it to me. We’ll all sit down and process it, and formulate a game plan.”
Townes came up with the sequence of big plays for the section title win in the closing seconds of the game. With Lourdes leading 40-39, the Dutchmen grabbed the rebound off of a missed free throw from Anozie. The ball went to Tappan Zee’s Kieran Gibson, who charged upcourt. That’s when Townes made his move and came up with the steal. He went the other way on a fast break and drained the layup as time expired.
“I was trying to force him left. I tried to make him do the crossover, and when he did that I got the steal,” Townes explained. “It felt amazing. When I heard the buzzer go off after it went in, I was so ecstatic. I gave James a big hug, because I know he’s wanted this since freshman year.”
Anozie, a senior center, led the Warriors with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Townes added eight points, eight rebounds and five steals. He was selected as an all-tournament player.
Lourdes began the game strong, taking a 4-3 lead with 3:23 to play in the first quarter on a layup by Townes. The Warriors then scored six unanswered to take a 9-3 lead at the end of the first.
The Warriors continued to build their advantage in the second, leading by as many as 16. Lourdes held a 24-14 lead at halftime.
But Tappan Zee fought back.
The Dutchmen trimmed Lourdes’ lead to three, 40-37, with 1:03 to play. They scored two more before Townes hit his game-ending shot.
“We unleashed a strategy tonight that we’ve been holding,” Santoro said. “Don’t use your instincts to decide what’s good — shoot the ball. We did that and it paid off.”
The Warriors defeated top-seeded Byram Hills, 54-48, in Wednesday’s semifinals. They were happy to have shown the Westchester County teams that Dutchess County players can compete.
“Westchester — they’re all tough teams. We had to keep on grinding,” Anozie said. “We kept on grinding and grinding and we proved them all wrong. That’s what happened.”
Added Santoro: “Dutchess County basketball is pretty darn good. We come down as a relatively unknown. It’s good for us. When we come down (and win) it’s surprise.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports