PLEASANTVILLE – Jim Santoro and his players sat next to each other, one by one, filling the first two rows of bleachers at Pace University after the game Saturday.
With smiles wide, the Our Lady of Lourdes High School basketball team proudly held up its regional championship plaque. And, after photos were taken by fans and parents, Santoro stood up and yelled it out:
For the first time in Santoro’s coaching tenure, his Section 1 champion Warriors are going to the New York State semifinals, after a 61-46 win over Section 9 champion Poughkeepsie in the Class A regional final.
Lourdes will take on either Section 8’s Elmont Memorial or Southampton of Section 11 in the state semifinals on Friday at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton.
“It’s a little bit of a cliché when you say ‘the kids worked so hard for this.’ But this is off the charts,” Santoro said. “When you get to this point in time, every team is good and any team can win.”
Lourdes senior center James Anozie, who led Lourdes with 18 points against Poughkeepsie, couldn’t have been prouder.
“We’re a good team. Our chemistry is great,” he said. “We’ve got two more games to win.”
In order to get to the state final four, the Warriors had to beat a stingy group of Pioneers with a schematic alteration in the second half.
The teams traded blows midway through the third quarter, with Poughkeepsie leading 34-33. Joe Heavey then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Lourdes a 39-34 lead with 2:35 to go in the frame.
At the end of three, the Warriors led 42-38, before the Pioneers cut it to 44-40 early in the fourth. The Warriors then made their move, rattling off 11 unanswered points to pull away for good.
“We got the run at the end because we started hitting our shots,” Heavey said. “We needed to stay physical. We outhustled them, we got every loose ball and it was good coming away with the win.”
Santoro attributed the second half surge to some adjustments — switching to a 3-2 zone in the second half.
“It threw them off-balance a little bit,” the coach said. “We’re known for playing-man-to-man. Maybe they didn’t anticipate us going to that zone. And I think that was the difference.”
Kevin Townes was Lourdes’ second-leading scorer with 13 points. Heavey finished with 12, all on 3-pointers. Brady Hildebrand added nine, while Aidan Hildebrand poured in eight.
Another key to victory, Townes said, was limiting Poughkeepsie center Corey Simmons. Simmons finished with four points.
“We knew (the Pioneers) were athletic and they like to run the floor,” Townes said. “We really wanted to limit them in their transition game, because they score most of their points off that. Also, we knew Corey was going to be a force down low, so we tried to double down on him and limit his buckets.”
Lourdes took a 29-24 lead into halftime, but the Pioneers went ahead early in the third quarter on a pair of free-throws by Tramell Reaves. Reaves and Niyall Goins each scored 10 points to lead Poughkeepsie. Mo’Quez Dickens added nine.
Poughkeepsie finished the season 15-8. Coach Jerome Elting said he didn’t think his players “had the normal bounce in their step.”
Still, he’s encouraged looking towards the future.
“I just think we ran into a very good, very well coached team,” Elting said. “I’m encouraged with where we’re at and the direction we’re headed in.”
Meanwhile, Lourdes’ attention shifts towards Binghamton.
The Warriors (19-6) will have to wait to learn their opponent, as Elmont Memorial and Southampton play their regional final game at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Regardless of who they are facing, the Warriors plan on going in with plenty of confidence.
“This means a lot. We have the ability and talent to go far in our basketball season,” Townes said. “We’re playing against bigger and better teams and we can hold our own.
A.J. Martelli: firstname.lastname@example.org 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports