Some wished the calendar could skip ahead and today was Saturday.
There is an eagerness — an anxiousness — now to get upstate. Competing for a state championship is the obvious goal, but getting away and spending a few days in a hotel is an added perk. Several players became giddy just thinking about it.
The Our Lady of Lourdes High School boys basketball team earned its trip to Binghamton with a dazzling postseason run. The group now embarks on what could be a historic weekend for the program, readying for what senior James Anozie called, “the biggest games of our lives.”
The Warriors face Southampton High School in a Class A state semifinal at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena. Should Lourdes advance, it would play in the final at noon Sunday.
Lourdes seeks to become the first Dutchess County team to claim a boys basketball state title since Millbrook won Class D in 1999.
The excitement is palpable, and certainly understandable. Now, just imagine what that three-hour ride on Friday afternoon will be like with a busload of teenagers.
That’s right. For anyone who assumed there might be music being played to pass time, it’s a no. Ain’t no AUX cord here.
“Coach is gonna take away our phones for the weekend,” senior Corey Mullaly said. “If all goes well, we’ll get them back on Sunday night.”
The confiscation of electronics has become a road trip routine for the Warriors. In an effort to keep his team free of distractions and foster camaraderie, coach Jim Santoro collects all electronic devices from his players as they enter the vehicle. That means no cellphone, laptop, iPad or iPod… or a Walkman, if anyone under 25 even knows what that is.
So, as they trek along Route 17, a source of entertainment will be staring out the window, taking in the winter foliage in the rural parts of western New York. Perhaps making note of the highway signs for odd-named towns like Hale Eddy and Fishs Eddy. Fun, huh?
“It’s gonna be terrible,” senior Kevin Townes said bluntly. “You know how hard it is to not have your phone for days?”
The Warriors do, actually. Santoro did the same back in December when his team spent a weekend in New Rochelle and on Long Island, helping construct a house with Habitat for Humanity.
“And they survived it then,” the coach said on Wednesday. “They’ll be OK.”
Although the team has earned his trust, Santoro said he has run a tight ship the last several weeks, having his players cut out junk food and he has attempted to enforce a curfew. That will continue in Binghamton, where the team probably won’t check in to its hotel until Friday night. With a morning game on Saturday, the coach said, it’s imperative they get to sleep early.
Before that, though, the crew will likely resort to an old-school, tech-free method of communication: Conversation.
Well, that and roasts. Yeah, there will be jokes.
Mullaly said the group sometimes keeps itself engaged by coming up with “silly” chants for teammates and coaches. Townes said several of those are directed at Anozie, the team’s superstar, whom they’ve nicknamed “Toes.”
“When he takes his shoes off and we see those feet,” the guard said chuckling. “We can’t help but laugh. Those toes are ugly.”
The 6-foot-5 Anozie has, um, put his foot down in the post during the playoffs, serving as an offensive anchor and outperforming the centers who have opposed him.
En route to the Westchester County Center to face favored Tappan Zee for the Section 1 final, Townes said the team chanted “Kevin Lynch” — the opponent’s standout center — with the goal of getting Anozie worked up. It worked out.
Lourdes (19-6) entered the sectional playoffs as a fifth seed and pulled upsets in close games against Saunders, top-seeded powerhouse Byram Hills in the semifinals, and then No. 2 Tappan Zee. The Warriors then handled a surging Poughkeepsie team, 61-46, in the regional final last Saturday.
Earning a shot at history
It’s the farthest this program has ever gone. Lourdes last won the section championship in 2013 but lost in a regional semifinal. This will be Santoro’s first trip to the state final four in 28 seasons as the head coach there. Players said some of their motivation will come from a desire to win for the coach.
“There’s a sense of fulfillment because it’s not easy getting to this point,” Santoro said. “And there’s an element of luck. The ball rolls one way or another, and maybe you don’t get as far. You have to be good to have a chance, no doubt, but you’ve got to have Lady Luck on your side, too.”
With the Warriors having survived a series of nail-biters — including two games decided on the final possession — it would seem Lady Luck has winked at them.
The team said that eking out those thrillers has made it battle-tested, and that having suffered a handful of losses offers a fresh reminder of how painful defeat is.
“Just two more wins,” Anozie said. “We’re gonna make history for Lourdes and we’re almost there.”
The first step in that direction, of course, will be containing a high-scoring Southampton team known for its perimeter shooting. The Mariners (21-3) had won the three previous Long Island Class B championships, before moving to Class A this scholastic year. Marlboro beat Southampton, 79-65, in the regional playoffs last season on its way to a state final.
“We’ve watched every piece of film of (Southampton) we could get our hands on,” Santoro said. “We feel prepared. We’re not cocky, but we’re confident. We don’t consider ourselves a Cinderella, even though we’re new here.”
This also will be the first time that Binghamton hosts the ball, well, ball games. The boys basketball state tournament had been held in Glens Falls since 1981. But Broome County won a bid to host the 15 games this weekend, and offered a recently-refurbished arena.
“I’ve never been to Binghamton before,” Townes said. “I’ve never gone to states before in any sport, so it wouldn’t matter what town it is. We’re gonna be excited for all of it.”
They won’t be able to share that with their Instagram followers, so take our word for it.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
Class A state semifinals
Where: Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena, Binghamton
Who: Section 5’s Irondequoit vs. Section 3’s Jamesville-DeWitt at 9 a.m., Section 1’s Our Lady of Lourdes vs. Section 11’s Southampton at 10:45 a.m.
Finals: Sunday at noon
Live updates: Follow Journal reporter Stephen Haynes on Twitter, @StephenHaynes4, for the latest news