The Westchester County Center has become a destination where high school hoopsters dream of playing. Some never get there. Some that do are often rattled by nerves.
Peekskill is the exception to the rule.
Boasting a roster in which most of its talent is comprised of underclassmen, the fourth-seeded Red Devils continued to be an anomaly with their 63-35 win over top-seeded Beacon in the Section 1 Class A semifinals Wednesday.
The defending champions overpowered the Bulldogs (18-3) the entire game, playing with confidence and comfort their opponents lacked. Peekskill (17-4), which won a state title in 2011, has now won its last five games at the County Center, including two at the Slam Dunk Tournament in December.
“No knock on (Beacon), but they just haven’t had that this type of experience before,” said Peekskill coach Rodney Headley Jr., who has everyone back from last year’s championship squad. “We’ve been here, it feels like over and over again, and we’re playing off experience. We feel like we’re the veterans, so we’ve got to act like veterans and come out focused.”
Sophomore Lanay Rodney, last year’s tournament MVP, dropped in a game-high 23 points for the Red Devils, who will play No. 2 Albertus Magnus for the gold ball on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s finale.
“Every time I play on these rims, I know that my shot is good here, so I just keep playing my regular game” said Rodney, who is averaging 23 points per game in five career contests at the County Center. “The crowd hypes me up more than in a regular gym.”
“She just likes the attention,” Headley said. “When there’s a lot of people who don’t know her, she plays harder. It’s the same thing in her AAU games — when she travels and I see the big-time crowds, she does the same thing. She loves the crowd. When the crowd is there, she puts on a show.”
Peekskill beat Albertus Magnus in the championship game of the Slam Dunk Tournament in late December, 56-40. The Falcons will be without starting point guard, Kelly Guarino, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
“We’ve played (Albertus Magnus) numerous times,” Rodney said. “We just have to keep playing our regular game — keep our hands up on defense and find shots on offense.”
Where most teams try to hide behind the “one-game-at-a-time” cliché, Headley has made his goals very clear.
“It’s bigger than the County Center now. The goal is obviously to win the gold ball, but to be honest, it’s like, ‘state championship or bust,'” he said.