Boys basketball is king once again in this region.
In Dutchess County and its neighboring communities, there have been big years in boys soccer and baseball in the past, but boys basketball, on the whole, always took a backseat to many other sports.
This season, though, has been one to remember. The Poughkeepsie Journal covers 19 high schools — all of Dutchess and also Highland, Marlboro and New Paltz in Ulster and Haldane in Putnam — and four of them won sectional titles and three others made the title game.
Poughkeepsie (19-2) and Our Lady of Lourdes (17-6) brought home gold balls in Section 1; Section 9 Class B champ Marlboro (15-6) lost in the regional final; and Section 9 Class C champ Pine Plains (20-2) has a chance this weekend to do something no one in Dutchess can say they’ve done since 1999’s Millbrook team did it: win a state title.
The local teams that made the championship games finished the season with a cumulative record of 114-33.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (16-5) won the Dutchess County Basketball Coaches Association Holiday Tournament and had one of its best seasons in recent memory. Spackenkill (13-8) used guts and determination to fluster higher-seeded James I. O’Neill in not one, not two, not three, but four overtimes in the Section 9 Class B semifinals. New Paltz (14-3) blended skill and size for one of its best seasons in a while.
And it wasn’t just the champions or the finalists who opened eyes. It was also teams like Arlington (16-4), which came within an eyelash of making the County Center in Section 1 Class AA, and Beacon, whose grit and determination at 8-11 almost outlasted top-seeded Byram Hills in the Section 1 Class A first round. It was Highland, going 10-9 one year removed from a one-win season. It was Red Hook, going 10-9 after the legendary Rod Chando retired and was replaced by Matt Hayes and with a team that was pretty much learning its way as it went. It was Pawling, going 11-8 and picking up a signature win over Putnam Valley, which was in the Section 9 Class B final.
Brian Laffin thinks one reason for the resurgence in local boys basketball is a year-long commitment to the game.
“It’s the resurgence of the offseason stuff,” Poughkeepsie’s head coach said. “The summer basketball, the AAU. With the summer leagues, it’s becoming year-round. They want to get better year-round.
“The training is better. The coaching in the offseason is better. I know (Lourdes coach) Jimmy (Santoro’s) got his thing. I know (Arlington coach) Matt Hoyt’s got his thing. Everybody does their thing for about three-quarters of the year.”
Laffin said he also thinks sport-specific training is a big factor in how good basketball has gotten in this part of the Hudson Valley. Poughkeepsie’s players, as well as its coach, take part in offseason programs at North Star Sports in Poughkeepsie.
“The kids are getting better physical training than they ever have,” Laffin said. “I see a lot of Dutchess County kids training there.”
This season has also produced a lot of buzz. Coaches and players can look online, in the newspaper or even on Twitter and see neighboring schools excelling. Laffin said he was excited to see his friends in the Dutchess County coaching ranks succeeding.
“(Spackenkill coach) Terry Feeley is a friend of mine and so are guys like (Roosevelt coach) Kevin Hart and Matt Hayes, who are guys I came up the ranks with,” Laffin said. “In Terry’s case, he was kind of a mentor to me. I feel good for those guys. In the Coaches Association, we’re a tight-knit group. We want to beat each other when we face each other, but we’re pretty tight when it comes to the promotion of Dutchess County basketball.”
That local bond, whether it’s within county lines or within sectional lines, had Poughkeepsie players cheering on Lourdes players as they won the gold ball.
It brought us practically half of Dutchess County showing up at Mount Saint Mary College on a Wednesday to see if Poughkeepsie could get past local powerhouse John S. Burke Catholic.
It brought us Pine Plains and its fans showing up early on Long Island before its regional final to cheer on a Marlboro team with which it had two close battles. The camaraderie built on the hardwood during a long, hard season is really encouraging to see.
“It gives you a sense of pride,” Laffin said.
It sure does. Be sure that local boys basketball teams and coaches will try to top the 2012-13 season. That first practice of next season is less than eight months away. Thanks for the thrills. Can hardly wait for November.