At one point in the last three years, Brandon Tate’s jump-shot broke like a curveball. But on Saturday at the Westchester County Center, the Palisade Prep senior was true to the mark. He scored 13 of his 20 points during a decisive third quarter surge that turned the Section 1 Class C championship game into a referendum on one of the section’s rising small-school programs.
Tate and the second-seeded Phoenix capped their third year of existence by overwhelming top-seeded Children’s Village 79-57 to win their first gold ball.
“We just wanted it more. Heart and hustle,” said Tate, who also had five steals. “We knew we weren’t going home empty handed. We needed that gold ball. That’s what our mission was.”
Mobile users: If you don’t see video, watch game video here.
It began three long years ago when the new high school played its first season of varsity ball. Palisade Prep (18-3) lost in the Class D semifinals with three freshmen and four sophomores, all of whom proved Saturday that they had blossomed as upperclassmen.
Junior Isaiah Ward had 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks to earn tournament MVP honors. He and Tate were joined in double figures by junior Kevin Sabino-Pena (13 points, 6 rebounds) and senior Fred Truss Jr. (11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals).
All four players were integral in the program’s growth from pretender to contender to champion.
“It’s very rewarding,” Ward said. “We worked very hard.”
The Phoenix will play three-time Section 9 champ Pine Plains at 6 Tuesday at Mount St. Mary in Newburgh in the state regional semifinals. Pine Plains lost to Tuckahoe in the same round the last two seasons, but returns almost its entire team and has won 16 straight.
Palisade Prep advancing hardly seemed like a given entering the game. The teams split during the regular season and Children’s Village (19-2) just beat defending state champ Tuckahoe in this week’s semifinals.
In fact, the Phoenix held a tenuous 30-28 lead at halftime, but increased defensive pressure in the second half led to a 49-point outburst. Behind Tate, Palisade Prep’s press sparked a 19-0 run to start the third quarter.
The lead swelled to 30 in the fourth quarter. It almost seemed as if the first half never happened.
“I was expecting a close game like the first half the entire time,” coach Sean Stahn said. “Other coaches joked to me about the halftime speech, but I didn’t really get too fired up. They just came out in the second half and executed the game plan.”
Children’s Village saw its game plan complicated by the recent discharge of one of its top players, junior Kareem Padgett, who played in the Hawks’ win over Palisade Prep but not in the loss. They struggled without him in the final, committing 22 turnovers.
Senior Roger Owens had 13 points and 17 rebounds, and Brandon Rodriguez scored a team-high 17 off the bench after sitting out the semifinal.