SOUTH GLENS FALLS – Joe Virgadamo said the game had left him speechless, but he was more likely just dumbfounded. Minutes earlier, his Haldane team had defended another shot at the buzzer, survived another thriller, and advanced to — yup — a state championship game.
For a program that had suffered so much roster turnover and began the season with such modest expectations, the truth has kept getting harder to fathom.
“We’re doing it. They’re a special group,” Virgadamo said. “I don’t know how we’re doing it. I’m not going to lie to you. But we’re doing it.”
Haldane ensured it would play on the season’s final day by beating Section 4’s Moravia 36-34 in Friday’s Class C state semifinal at the Glens Falls Civic Center. For the Blue Devils (16-9), it will be their first-ever appearance in a state final. They will meet small-school power Middle Early College, a magnet school from Buffalo that romped through its semifinal.
“It’s a high school basketball game. Some crazy things can happen,” Virgadamo said. “On paper? Yeah, we’re in trouble. But guess what? We’re believing. We’re playing well. We’ve peaked at the right time.”
Have they ever. The Blue Devils won their sixth straight Friday in a defensive struggle with a finish that mirrored last week’s 35-34 triumph over Stony Brook in the regional final. They trailed just once all game (3-2), but were forced to fend off a challenge from Moravia (20-5) the entire fourth quarter.
First, the Section 3 champ pulled within one late in the third, but sophomore Aidan Siegel came off the bench and hit one of the biggest shots of the game. His 3-point attempt at the buzzer hit the rim, rattled around and dropped to give Haldane a 32-28 lead.
Siegel, who has played sparingly throughout the playoffs, pumped his fists emphatically and received an emotional welcome from his teammates on the bench. They had fought through the end of the third quarter without senior Will Zuvic, who was saddled with foul trouble.
“It just kept our momentum going,” said Siegel, who had his only points of the game on the shot. “I think it sparked us. We didn’t have the best fourth quarter, but winning the end of the quarter was big for our team.”
Haldane struggled for points in the fourth and Zuvic — who had a team-high 12 points and 10 rebounds — eventually fouled out. Leading scorer Tucker Beachak had six points, eight rebounds and four assists, but he struggled shooting (3 for 15), further hampering the offense.
Even so, the Blue Devils had key contributions late from seniors David Rotando and Nick Chiera. Rotando hit two key free throws with 21 seconds remaining. Chiera grabbed several key rebounds, including a missed free throw by Moravia with 10.7 left.
Chiera missed a free throw after he was fouled on the play. Moravia rebounded and pushed the ball upcourt, but Rotando forced star Jared Lyon into a difficult shot on the final possession. Lyon was unable to penetrate and unleashed a desperate 3-pointer in the final seconds that Rotando blocked to end the game.
Rotando helped limit Lyon to nine points. In fact, Haldane held Moravia to 28 percent shooting, highlighted by a paltry four field goals from inside the 3-point arc.
“I pride my game on defense, hustle and just grinding it out and wanting it more than everybody else,” said Rotando, who had nine points. “When I got my assignment, I knew No. 22 was a great player. I was hungry for it. I was really excited to guard him. I love guarding good players. I think it came down to heart, hustle and who wanted it more.”
The Blue Devils will play for their first state title Saturday night at 7:15.