The Fairchester Athletic Association boys basketball championship game between top-seeded Masters and visiting, second-seeded Greens Farms Academy lived up to expectations Saturday.
It had been 15 years since the Panthers claimed the FAA tournament title, and they did it in dramatic fashion by dethroning the defending champs in a 61-56 thriller.
The victory not only gave the Panthers (18-6) their long-coveted title, but also completed a three-game sweep of the season series with the Dragons.
Junior Max Ishmael of Ossining has delivered clutch plays for Masters throughout the season, but none were bigger than his 3-pointer to put the Panthers up 59-56 with 30 seconds left in the game.
“In the first game at their place, we were down by 10 in the second half and we clawed back into the game. Max made a 3 with four seconds left to send the game into overtime,” Masters coach Matt Kammrath said about Ishmael’s clutch play in the eventual overtime victory. “That moment established him as that guy to make that shot and his teammates trusted him to step into the shot to make that.
“He was the guy we told him that, ‘they are going to lay off you the entire game and you have to deliver for us’ and he did.”
Ishmael, who finished with 15 points, took advantage of GFA’s (18-4) game plan to limit his teammate Michael Jurzynski of Pearl River, Masters’ leading scorer who netted 30 points in Friday’s semifinal win over Rye Country Day. Then with 12 seconds remaining, Ishmael put the Dragons’ hopes to rest with two title-clinching free throws.
“Actually when they called a timeout, I was able to collect myself,” Ishmael said. “The first shot I just knew it was going in.”
GFA coach Doug Scott prepped his squad to limit Jurzynski and freshman Brandon Randolph of Yonkers. The two combined for 46 points in the semifinals, but combined for only 17 Saturday.
“It’s just a Bobby Knight thing, you take away their best scorers and see what happens,” Scott said about Jurzynski and Randolph.
“Unfortunately for us, Masters was too deep for us by two possessions.”
Panthers senior Isiah Hayden led with 18 points and picked up his star teammates when they needed him. For years, Hayden has been a part of a Masters team which has been knocking on the door to capture the FAA regular season and playoff titles.
Now he leaves the school with a higher level of expectation for future teams to live up to. He’s also looking to keep his postseason aspirations alive with the upcoming NEPSAC tournament against New England’s best private-school basketball programs.
“It feels good to leave my senior year with a championship and to set the stage high for the new guys who will be coming in,” Hayden said. “When I come back next year, I expect nothing less than a championship again.
“But for now, we are looking forward to NEPSAC.”