Pragmatism suggests there is no such thing as a “team of destiny.”
There are good teams that capitalize on fortuitous circumstances and accomplish what few expected. Simple.
A proverbial magic carpet ride lasts only until a stiff breeze disrupts it.
But every so often, a group gives cause to wonder if destiny is involved. And the occurrence gives some reason to make statements like:
“There’s something special going on,” Poughkeepsie High School basketball player Mo’Quez Dickens said on Sunday. “I feel like we can take it all, like we can go to the top.”
The senior said that after Poughkeepsie had pulled a stunning comeback and upset top-seeded Goshen, 100-92, in overtime to capture the Section 9 Class A championship at Mount St. Mary College.
It had already been a remarkable run for the third-seeded Pioneers, a team few believed in at the beginning of the season. Heck, the team itself didn’t imagine getting that far.
And Goshen represented that fierce gust of wind.
But the Pioneers erased a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter and surged in overtime to win their first title since 2013, when they earned a Section 1 championship.
“There’s a component of luck in getting here,” Poughkeepsie coach Jerome Elting admitted. “We were fortunate. That team was tough and shot the ball really well. But we persevered.”
The Pioneers (14-7) will face Johnson City of Section 4 in a regional semifinal on Wednesday, 7 p.m. at SUNY New Paltz.
In preparation, the team practiced on Monday, less than 24 hours after one of the most thrilling victories in program history.
“I’m not gonna lie,” sophomore Jamik Carter said, “we didn’t think we could win a title. I came into this game nervous.”
This was expected to a rebuilding season for Poughkeepsie, both tangibly and emotionally. The Pioneers would have a young roster, relying heavily on a slew of sophomores, and they would face challenges with a first-time head coach.
Many in the community questioned the decision to make a coaching change last summer, considering the team had reached the final a year ago.
As well, the team and neighborhood still was grieving the death of former teammate Caval Haylett, an 18-year-old who was shot and killed days after the basketball season ended last March.
Had the Pioneers struggled, it wouldn’t have been a shock. It would have been understandable.
But players said in December the season held more significance, and added motivation would come from attempting to “make our angels proud.”
Marvin Lunsford scored 21 points to lead the Pioneers in the final. Antawone West added 19 points and Tremell Reaves scored 16. Corey Simmons, a 6-foot-7 center, had 15 points and nine rebounds.
“We have people looking down over us, so this (championship) wasn’t just for me and my team,” said Dickens, whose grandmother died shortly before the season began. “This is for my family. The community needed this.”
Simmons expressed similar sentiments and said he played for his grandma, who also died last fall. March 2 was her birthday, the senior said as he became emotional, “so everything I do is to honor her.”
Given the tragedy and controversies the community has endured, that blue championship plaque can serve, at least, as a small feel-good emblem of progress.
“This is something they’ll always be able to talk about with their children and grandchildren one day,” said Elting, who starred on the court for Poughkeepsie in the 1970s. “This day — March 5, 2017 — we were here and we did something special.”
The Pioneers raced out to a big lead, but Goshen charged back late in the second quarter and pulled within 40-35 at halftime. In the second half, the Gladiators unleashed an offensive barrage from the perimeter.
Goshen’s Ryan Lutz scored 14 of his 32 points in the third quarter. His deep three-pointer gave the Gladiators their first lead, 44-42, with 6:51 left in the third. Goshen had 30 points in the period and its lead eventually swelled to 69-57.
Poughkeepsie was kept afloat by sophomore Niyal Goins, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and sparked the rally.
“Coach told us to that you don’t want to come out of this with bad memories,” Dickens said. “Win or lose, we had to give our best and make sure we wouldn’t have regrets.”
The Pioneers made a push late in the fourth, as Goshen’s shooting cooled, and Lunsford’s layup pulled them within two with 48 seconds left. Davontrey Thomas was fouled on a putback attempt with 15 seconds remaining. His two free throws tied it at 83.
“That’s our shooter,” Carter said. “There was no doubt he was gonna make those. Once we got it close and got back in, we started thinking we could win.”
Goshen scored first in overtime, but Lunsford’s jumper put Poughkeepsie ahead, 87-86, with 3:13 remaining. West then nailed a three on the ensuing possession. Myles Ukoh’s three-point play pulled the Gladiators within 90-89 with 2:31 left, but Carter’s four quick points rebuilt the lead and Poughkeepsie sealed it with free throws in the final minute.
The buzzer sounded. Players rushed the court to celebrate, coaches and administrators hugged, fans danced, and the crowd roared as the Pioneers were crowned. The scene was lit, as the kids say.
“I didn’t expect this,” Goins said. “Right off the bat we lost our first game to (Franklin D. Roosevelt) and we got down on ourselves. I didn’t see us winning it at first. But we picked ourselves up.”
Lucky? Team of destiny? Maybe.
The most accurate label, however, is “champions.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4